By Emma Castleberry
For forty years, North Carolina State Parks have hosted a healthy, outdoor tradition on New Year’s Day. “First Day Hikes have become a tradition in our state parks because, after the warm coziness of the holidays, getting outdoors and away from electronics has become a very memorable and symbolic activity,” says Katie Hall, public information officer with the NC Division of Parks and Recreation. “Fresh air, conversation, learning, exercise and being surrounded by nature—it’s just a great way to start the year.” More than 40 guided hikes are scheduled for January 1, ranging from short nature walks to seven-mile treks. Most First Day Hikes are led by park rangers and include interpretive, educational programs along the way. “First Day Hikes offer North Carolinians and visitors a rededication to fitness, family time and enjoyment of the outdoors and the rich natural resources that distinguish North Carolina,” says Hall.
At Mount Mitchell State Park, a park ranger will lead visitors through the Balsam Nature Trail, which is just under a mile. “Our terrain makes it tough to have hiking options that are considered easy,” says Kevin Bischof, superintendent of Mount Mitchell State Park. “The Balsam Nature Trail is not considered an easy hike, but it is one of the park’s easier hikes. It also meanders through some of the quintessential spruce fir forest that makes Mount Mitchell unique.” The hike begins at the Upper Summit Parking Lot at 1 p.m. and should be over by 2:15 p.m.
Park Rangers Alyssa Coburn and Neal Wilcox will lead visitors on a moderate, 2-mile hike at Gorges State Park on January 1. Starting at the Park Visitor Center at 10 a.m., the group will hike to the Bearwallow Overlook and then down to the Upper Bearwallow Falls observation deck. “The hike to Upper Bearwallow Falls encompasses many aspects and features that make this park unique, such as a view of the gorges for which the park is named; a stunning view overlooking Lake Jocassee and Lake Keowee; a walk through several different natural communities found in the park; and, of course, the beautiful falls,” says park ranger Brannon Bryson. “The First Day Hike is important to Gorges State Park because it gets the public outside and involved in natural and cultural resources. The public gets a chance to interact, ask questions and get an understanding of what NC parks protect and why it is important to pass this information on to future generations.” Friends of Gorges will provide complimentary hot chocolate before the hike.
On January 1, Chimney Rock State Park will open up Chimney Rock Park Road for walkers. “The First Day hike at Chimney Rock State Park is one of the only times the public is allowed to hike the park road,” says park superintendent James Ledgerwood. “This route was chosen to allow our visitors a walk through time. I will be giving a short historical talk at the beginning of the hike and visitors will be able to visit the Chimney as they did over 100 years ago: through a 3-mile hike up the mountain.” The group will meet at the park entrance at 8 a.m. and the hike will be finished by 10 a.m.
For all First Day Hike events, participants are advised to come prepared for winter weather conditions with appropriate gear, sturdy hiking boots and water. “First Day Hikes in your state parks remind the consummate outdoor enthusiast that winter hikes can be unique and wonderful,” says Hall. “For those who haven’t hiked much in the past, First Day Hikes can offer some inspiration to get to know their state parks as they dive in to a new year.”
For more information, visit NCParks.gov/First-Day-Hikes.