Explore On Your Own

Maybe you’ve joined us for a Hike NC guided hike and now have the urge to venture out on your own. Or maybe you didn’t realize all the treasures Mother Nature has to offer (not that I’m bragging!). But since you asked, I’ve got everything from greenways to blueways (water trails), birdwatching to geocaching, hot springs to whitewater rapids, even stargazing parties. And equestrian trails. And paddling, picnicking, fishing, camping, boating…you name it, I’ve got it. Not that I’m bragging!

American Tobacco Trail

Counties: Durham, Chatham, and Wake

The American Tobacco Trail is a 22+ mile trail spanning Durham, Chatham and Wake counties that allows walkers, runners, dog walkers, cyclists and even equestrians to enjoy the environmental and cultural history of the area. The staff offers a variety of year-round events and public programs for all ages. These include 5K (3.1 mile) races and marathons, birdwatching, geocaching and educational sessions about wildlife that can be found along the trail. Please note: Equestrian use is permitted only on the dual-surface road south of King Scott Road within the Durham section.

For more information, visit: http://www.triangletrails.org/american-tobacco-trail.

Appalachian Trail

Counties: Graham, Macon, and Madison (Nantahala Gorge and Max Patch Mountain areas)

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile, hiking-only footpath that passes through 14 states. The 88-mile NC portion of the trail features two popular sections. The Nantahala Gorge section is entirely within the Nantahala National Forest and runs through the Nantahala Outdoor Center, well known for its whitewater adventures. The Max Patch section runs through Hot Springs, which has been referred to as “The Crown Jewel of the Appalachian Trail.” Another 200-mile section runs on or near the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.

For more information, visit: http://www.appalachiantrail.org/.

B. Everett Jordan Dam and Lake

Counties: Chatham, Wake, Durham, and Orange

Spanning 46,768 acres, Jordan Lake offers recreational activities such as paddling, picnicking, birdwatching, fishing, camping and, of course, hiking! The lake is managed through a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State of North Carolina.

For more information, visit: http://www.ncparks.gov/jordan-lake-state-recreation-area

Cape Fear Locks & Dams

Counties: Columbus, Bladen, and Cumberland

The three locks and dams spanning the Cape Fear River are great for recreation, featuring boat ramps, riverbank or pier fishing, picnic sites, charcoal grills and restrooms. Lock 1 features a nature boardwalk and a view of the Rock Arch Rapids migratory fish passage. Originally built for shipping, the locks and dams now protect public water intakes.

For more information, visit: http://www.saw.usace.army.mil/Locations/District-Lakes-and-Dams/Cape-Fear-Locks-and-Dams/.

Carolina Thread Trail

Counties: Anson, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cherokee (SC), Chester (SC), Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lancaster (SC), Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, Union, York (SC)

The Carolina Thread Trail is a regional network of greenways, trails and blueways that spans 15 counties, two states (North Carolina and South Carolina), and 2.3 million people. There are more than 250 miles of trails and 100 miles of blueways open to the public. A partnership with the Catawba Lands Conservancy brings free public programs such as guided hikes, nature walks, group bike rides, stargazing parties and even group kayaking!

For more information, visit: http://www.carolinathreadtrail.org/.

Duke Forest

Counties: Durham, Orange, and Alamance

Owned and managed by Duke University, Duke Forest consists of more than 7,000 acres of forested land and open fields in Durham, Orange and Alamance counties. Limited public recreation is permitted as long as it doesn’t conflict with teaching, research and management activities being conducted in the forest. Permissible activities include walking, hiking and running along forest roads and foot trails, biking and horseback riding on forest roads only, fishing with a valid NC fishing license and group activities approved in advance.

For more information, visit: http://dukeforest.duke.edu/recreation/.

East Coast Greenway

Counties: Granville, Vance, Warren, Franklin, Durham, Lee, Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Cumberland, Bladen, Pender, New Hanover, Brunswick, Camden, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, Bertie, Martin, Pitt, Beaufort, Craven, Pamlico, Carteret, Onslow

The East Coast Greenway, described by some as an “urban Appalachian Trail,” is a developing trail system that will extend 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. North Carolina’s 372-mile route passes through Durham and Raleigh, brushes the Sandhills, goes through Fayetteville and runs along the Cape Fear River to explore Wilmington. A Historic Coastal Route trail also extends from Virginia on the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, linking Greenville and Jacksonville to the main route in Wilmington.

For more information, visit: http://www.greenway.org/explore-by-state/nc.

Falls Lake

Counties: Durham and Wake

Falls Lake is a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of North Carolina, and several local governments. It spans across 12,400 acres of water and is surrounded by 25,600 acres of land — plenty of room for a variety of recreational activities including hiking, biking, camping, fishing, swimming, or hunting. It hosts five trails of varying distances and difficulty.

For more information, visit: http://www.ncparks.gov/falls-lake-state-recreation-area.

Gary Shell Cross City Trail

County: New Hanover

The Cross-City Trail, part of the East Coast Greenway, is a 15-mile trail running from Wade Park through Halyburton Park and Empie Park to the Heide-Trask Drawbridge at the Intracoastal Waterway. Cyclists and pedestrians can use it to access recreational, cultural and educational destinations around Wilmington.

For more information, visit: http://www.wilmingtonnc.gov/departments/parks-recreation/gary-shell-cross-city-trail.

Greensboro Watershed Lakes

County: Guilford

Fourteen trails are open to the public around the Greensboro Watershed Lakes: Lake Higgins, Lake Brandt and Lake Townsend. Together, these trails cover 42 miles of land, all open to hiking and some shared with mountain biking. Some of these trails are also part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. See why this area is called one of Greensboro’s best-kept secrets.

For more information, visit: http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=1372.

John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir/Buggs Island Lake

North Carolina Counties: Vance, Granville, Warren

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates this 50,000-acre reservoir and an additional 55,000 acres of surrounding land. The 900 miles of wooded shoreline stretch across three counties in North Carolina and three in Virginia. Along this shoreline you can find opportunities to boat, fish, camp, swim, picnic, hike and hunt. Four campgrounds are operated by the Corps of Engineers, seven by the North Carolina State Parks and two by the Virginia State Parks. These campgrounds host boat ramps, beaches, playgrounds and hiking trails.

For more information, visit: http://www.saw.usace.army.mil/Locations/District-Lakes-and-Dams/John-H-Kerr/.

Middle Fork Greenway (part of the Blue Ridge Conservancy)

Counties: Watauga and Caldwell

The Blue Ridge Conservancy and High Country Pathways are partnering to build a 6.5-mile greenway from Blowing Rock to Boone. Connecting to the existing Boone Greenway, it will create more than 10 miles of continuous trail for walking, jogging, cycling, rollerblading and skateboarding. Check the website to see the progress being made.

For more information, visit: https://www.middleforkgreenway.org.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Counties: Swain, Haywood, Transylvania, Jackson, Buncombe, Yancey, McDowell, Burke, Avery, Caldwell, Watauga, Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany, Yadkin, Surry, Stokes, Forsyth, Guilford, Alamance, Orange, Durham, Wake, Johnston, Sampson, Cumberland, Bladen, Pender, Onslow, Carteret, Craven, Wayne, Lenoir, Pamlico, Hyde, Dare

Known as North Carolina’s state hiking trail, The Mountains-to-Sea Trail takes you across our state to experience the diverse array of natural beauty from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, ending at Jockey’s Ridge, the tallest sand dune on the East Coast. The state hiking route is 1,175 miles and includes connecting backroads and an optional paddle route.

For more information, visit: https://mountainstoseatrail.org/.

North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) Park

County: Wake

The recently expanded NCMA Park offers a trail system designed for hiking, walking and jogging in Raleigh. The 1-mile Blue Loop features environmentally sustainable landscapes, colorful and contemporary gardens, and temporary and permanent public art installations by international artists. The paved Reedy Creek Greenway system connects the eastern part of the NCMA Park to Meredith College and NC State University via a pedestrian bridge. It connects the western part of the NCMA Park to Umstead State Park and Schenck Forest.

For more information, visit: http://ncartmuseum.org/visit/thepark/.

Thrifty Adventures

Counties: Gaston, Mitchell, McDowell, Surry

Thrifty Adventures is a wilderness guiding service that provides experiences in rock climbing, rappelling, kayaking, tubing, yoga hikes and various youth programs in several NC state parks and Pisgah National Forest. Thrifty Adventures’ goal is to provide a safe environment for all who strive to test their limits and explore the world around them.

For more information, visit: http://thriftyadventuresnc.com/.

TRACK Trails

Counties: Ashe, Harnett, Yancey, Watauga, New Hanover, Bladen, Gates, Durham, Orange, Gaston, Rutherford, Burke, McDowell, Chatham, Wake, Vance, Warren, Iredell, Scotland, Hoke, Robeson, Columbus, Rockingham, Surry, Yadkin, Avery, Stanly, Alleghany, Wilkes, Halifax, Camden, Stokes

Kids in Parks offers a nationwide network of outdoor adventures called TRACK Trails. Each trail has self-guided brochures and signs to transform your visit into an exciting adventure. You can even earn prizes for tracking your adventures. There are currently more than 80 TRACK Trails with many new trails in the works. These trails offer a variety of activities including hiking, biking, paddling, disc golf, fishing, camping, and science and nature education.

For more information, visit: http://www.kidsinparks.com/find-an-adventure/search/NC.

Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC)

Counties: Orange, Johnston, Durham, Chatham, Lee, Wake

Responsible for working to permanently protect more than 18,000 acres across the Triangle, TLC manages 7 nature preserves that are free and open to the public. Activities including hiking, walking, running, photography, birdwatching and geocaching are permitted within the public nature preserves.

For more information, visit: https://www.triangleland.org/.

Uwharrie National Forest

Counties: Montgomery, Randolph, Davidson

The Uwharrie National Forest comprises about 51,000 acres mostly in Montgomery County with some land in Randolph and Davidson counties. A variety of activities are permitted in the forest such as biking, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, picnicking, water activities, off-highway vehicle riding and disc golf. Please note that some of these activities, particularly hunting and fishing, may require a permit or license.

For more information, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=48934.

W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir

County: Wilkes

Constructed in 1962 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help control flooding, this manmade lake has become a Wilkesboro, NC, treasure. Miles of hiking trails surround the lake, including the 6-mile Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which has a trailhead at the Bandits Roost campground. More than 45 total miles of multi-use trails allow mountain biking in addition to hiking. Trails can be reached through the Warrior Creek Campground, Dark Mountain Park and Visitor Assistance Center areas.

For more information, visit: https://www.visitnc.com/listing/w-kerr-scott-dam-reservoir-1.