Travel

Day Trips: Fresh air for a fresh year

Hikers love the trails at Crowders Mountain State Park. A First Day hike there on Jan. 1 is held in conjunction with one just over the state border at South Carolina’s Kings Mountain State Park.
Hikers love the trails at Crowders Mountain State Park. A First Day hike there on Jan. 1 is held in conjunction with one just over the state border at South Carolina’s Kings Mountain State Park. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Start 2016 by checking off two persistent annual resolutions: Do something healthy and save some cash. That’s where First Day hikes come into play: These organized activities are offered in both Carolinas on Jan. 1.

The N.C. State Parks program has had people strolling since the first day of 2012, according to public information officer Charles Peek. Last year there was a First Day hike in every park, with a record systemwide attendance: “We ended up with about 3,000 people.”

Some parks, in fact, are planning two hikes. “It’s a long one and a short one in some cases,” says Peek. “People like doing this as a family activity. If the kids are younger than 10 or 12, hiking a couple miles is about right for them. That’s the reason many of the First Day hikes are a mile or so and are leisurely, with an interpretive program along the way, so ... parents can take the kids without straining them.”

Eno River State Park, near Durham, began having First Day hikes decades ago; it’s the most popular by far in terms of number of participants. Also in the top tier: Umstead State Park near Raleigh, and Raven Rock near Fayetteville.

Raven Rock will have a hike in the morning that’s a couple miles; the afternoon hike is more brisk and attracts more hardcore hikers.

Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain (near Roaring Gap) are also popular. Peek says, “Those hikes are for people who want the mountain-type experience, though these aren’t truly high mountains. People aren’t as apt to to go to the big mountain parks when it’s cold out.”

That said, there’s a First Day hike at Mount Mitchell State Park, which has a summit that tops 6,000 feet.

N.C. parks close to Charlotte include Lake Norman, Crowders Mountain and South Mountain. For First Day, Crowders Park is probably the most popular, says Peek. It’s an adventurous 6-miler that features some impressive terrain and has the novelty of going to the S.C. line.

All the parks’ First Day hikes are guided; most are led by rangers. There’s no admission charged at N.C. state parks, and all are open New Year’s Day.

South Carolina’s First Day program is also ranger-led; the great majority of hikes are free.

S.C. state parks closest to Charlotte include Kings Mountain (near Blacksburg), Andrew Jackson (Lancaster) and Landsford Canal (near Catawba).

The First Day hike at Kings Mountain is in conjunction with the Crowders Mountain hike just across the state line. Andrew Jackson will hold two: a 1-mile stroll on the Garden of the Waxhaws Trail, and a Hanging Rock Trail hike. Landsford Canal offers a walk on the nature trail.

For either state, in all cases, do your homework ahead of time: Find a park where you’re comfortable with the terrain and length of hike. You’ll need to know what time the hike begins and where the meeting place will be.

And check the weather forecast.

Bring water, dress for the weather and wear appropriate walking shoes or hiking boots.

John Bordsen: 704-358-5251

Want to go?

N.C. State Parks First Day info: www.ncparks.gov.

S.C. State Parks’ First Day info: www.southcarolinaparks.com. Use the “park finder” link to learn about a specific location; or type “First Day” in the search windows to see a complete list of planned events. All but one are free.

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