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The Last Days of Winter Hiking

 
Along a snow-covered Mountains-to-Sea Trail

 

The winter months are not just for curling up with a good book in front a crackling fire. They are great for hitting the trails. Your favorite trails will show you new views. It’s a great time to discover new trails, too, when there aren’t as many hikers out and about. Here are a few of our favorite winter hiking spots that make us say, “Don’t hibernate, getting outside in the winter is great!” 

Before hitting the trail, you’ll need to do a few things first. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Be prepared for any weather changes; during the winter, the weather can change quickly, so take extra layers, water, and some snacks, just in case. Don’t forget your camera! 

When you’re on the trail, be sure to practice proper trail etiquette – let people know you are approaching from behind. Stay on the trail – if you shortcut, it causes erosion to start or become worse and may damage rare plants and animals. And, if you take it in, please be sure to take it back out. It’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of our trails and beautiful places for others to enjoy today and in the future. 

Sunset at Salem Lake in Winston-SalemTrail: Salem Lake Trail  
Length: 7-mile Loop 
Address: 1001 Salem Lake Rd, Winston-Salem, NC 27107 
Difficulty: Easy 

Will, the outdoor and shoe department manager in Winston-Salem, recommends the Salem Lake Trail. “This trail has a lot to offer,” said Will. “It’s easily accessible from the parking lot, well-groomed, and wide enough to make it easy to keep your distance from other hikers.” 

The Salem Lake Trail is used by runners, bikers, and equestrians, so be sure to exercise proper trail etiquette. “The scenery is awesome, especially as you’re looking out over the lake at sunrise or sunset,” continued Will. “Keep an eye out for all kinds of birds and maybe a fish or two jumping out of the water.” 

Peak to Prosperity Passage along the Palmetto TrailTrail: Peak to Prosperity Passage on the Palmetto Trail 
Length: 10.7 miles, point to point 
Address: 1317 Hope Station Rd, Pomaria, SC 29126 (Hope Station Trail Head) or Palmetto Trail, Little Mountain, SC 29075 (Alston Trail Head) 
Difficulty: Easy 

Carter, the outdoor and shoe department manager in Columbia, enjoys hiking many of the trails around Columbia during the winter months because “it’s the best time of the year to avoid the bugs.”  The Peak to Prosperity Passage is a section of the Palmetto Trail, which stretches from the Upstate to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. “It starts off with a bang as you cross the 1,100-foot-long Broad River Trestle,” said Carter. “It was built in 1890 and is one of the highlights of the entire Palmetto Trail, not just this section.”  

The passage takes you through beautiful scenery and by abandoned buildings, ruins of bridges that were burned in the Civil War, and great views of the Broad River and Crims Creek. Because it’s an old railbed, it’s a relatively easy hike for any age and is great for riding bikes, too. “There are tons of places to stop for a break or a picnic. Be sure to keep your eyes open; you might see a bald eagle,” said Carter.  

Hiking to Hawkbill Rock via the Snowball TrailTrail: Hawkbill Rock via the Snowball Trail 
Length: 3 miles, out and back 
Address: Via the Parkway, Milepost 367.5, Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, park at Beetree Gap & Stoney Fork Road (do not block gates or roadway) 
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult 

“This trail can be a challenge,” said Rachael, the outdoor and shoe department manager in Asheville. “There’s a lot of elevation gain in a short distance, but the views from Hawksbill Rock at the end is well worth it.” 

Follow the yellow-blazed trail. It will take you past meadows and many scenic views. Be aware that the trail is narrow in spots. Some of the elevation gain is mitigated by switchbacks – stay on the trail, don’t shortcut. “If the weather is right, it might feel a little magical, like you’re in the clouds,” said Rachael. Use caution on the actual rock. It is stable and has a good bit of texture to it for sure footing, but when it’s wet, it still might be a little slippery. If you’re up to it, add on to your hike (it’ll basically add another 4 miles) and head to the Little Snowball Fire Tower site. The tower was built in 1934 by the Big Ivy Civilian Conservation Corp camp. All that remains now are the cement pillars. 

Kids in Parks information center at the TRACK trailheadTrail: Kids in Parks TRACK Trail   
Length: 1.5 miles, loop 
Address: Milepost 384 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 195 Hemphill Knob Rd, Asheville, NC 28803 
Difficulty: Easy 

Melissa, a long-time employee in the outdoor department in Asheville, knows it’s important to get kids out in the woods. “This short trail connects to part of the Mountains to Sea Trail on both sides of the Parkway,” said Melissa. “The TRACK trail has four options for self-guided tours and makes this family-friendly trek through the woods a fun adventure.” The trail does have a few stairs and crosses the roadway, so be aware. She also encourages families to stop in at the Visitor Center to see the historic exhibits. “It’s a great place to sign up for the Jr. Ranger program, which includes a cool activity book relating to the Parkway.” 

Kids in Parks is a partnership of the National Park Service, Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina, and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. There are TRACK trails in numerous spots, and each one is family-friendly and has a guide for special features/wildlife/plants to look for on your hike/activity.  

Mossy Stumps on the Walker Creek Trail, photo by Jordan Mitchell, CC Share & Share Alike, no changes madeTrail: Walker Creek Trail 
Length: 4 miles, loop 
Address: 143 Ranger Rd, Barnardsville, NC 28709 (the trail follows some Forest Service Roads) 
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult 

Jake in Asheville’s outdoor department enjoys hiking this trail himself. “This trail, known locally as the Coleman Boundary, travels through a mixed hardwood forest and climbs up the ridge, where you’ll find some long-range views,” said Jake. “The upper half of the trail is very rocky, so if there are children along, it might be a good idea to stick to the lower section.” The trail can be combined with the Staire Creek Trail to make it a 6-mile loop. “Creeks and waterfalls are the highlights of this outing! You might also see some scenes you’ll recognize from the Last of the Mohicans and The Hunger Games. Both movies were filmed in this area." 

**Photo of Mossy Stumps on the Walker Creek Trail was taken by Jordan Mitchell, CC license, Share and Share Alike, no changes made. 

View of Devil's Courthouse, from National Park Service, A. Armstrong photographerTrail: Devil’s Courthouse 
Length: 1 mile, out and back 
Address: Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 422.4 
Difficulty: Moderate 

Renee, who works in the outdoor department in Waynesville, suggests this short hike, even when the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed. “You can park at the gate at the entrance to the Parkway and enjoy a walk on the roadbed when it’s closed,” said Renee. “Either walking or driving, head North. It’s just a mile to get to the trail. The trail to the top of Devil’s Courthouse is just ½ mile long, and it is strenuous, but the view is worth it!”  

There are many rare plants that grow along the way (some are survivors from the last ice age), so be sure to stay on the path. Once you’re at the top, stay within the overlook. The rocks surrounding it are nesting areas for the peregrine falcon.  

**Photo of Devil's Courthouse from the National Park Service, A. Armstrong photographer.

Next time you visit your favorite Mast Store be sure to ask about local hikes. Many stores have a brochure with information about their favorites and tips to use along the way.  


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