Posts Tagged "great-outdoors"

The Best of North Carolina’s State Parks

Published on November 12, 2016

Back in March of 2010, I mentioned that I had a goal of visiting and photographing every single state park in my home state of North Carolina. In May of that same year, I narrowed my definition slightly to be those parks that have public facilities and for which attendance records are taken. At the time, there were 40 such parks (another has since joined their ranks, for a total of 41 as of this writing).

On Saturday, October 29, after over six years of park visits, I finally completed my goal!

My final state park visit was at Hammocks Beach State Park, the only park with ferry-service to its primary land parcel, Bear Island. Photos from this visit are coming in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. Photos from all of my other state park visits can be seen here.

One question I’m often asked when sharing my love of state parks with others is: which park is your favorite? This is a really difficult question to answer, as every single park in our state has something unique to offer (which, incidentally, makes visiting them all so worthwhile). That said, I thought it would be fun to rank some of the state parks from the viewpoint of my favorite park pastime: hiking. In this post, I’ll provide a breakdown of my favorite parks to hike in for all three regions of our state: mountains, Piedmont, and coast. I’ll also post a list of my least favorite parks for hiking.

Best of the Mountains

North Carolina is blessed with terrific mountain state parks. Here are my favorite mountain state parks to hike:

  1. Gorges: The westernmost park in our state, Gorges is my favorite mountains park. It has a particularly beautiful visitor’s center, and though the hikes are very challenging, they offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the state as a reward.
  2. Stone Mountain: Hiking up the giant granite dome is one of the most enjoyable things to do at this fantastic park. Views from the top are great, especially on a clear day, and several waterfalls can’t be missed!
  3. Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock: These two parks are a tie for me. Both have challenging, but rewarding, hiking trails, fantastic views, and lots to do. Regardless of the season you visit, there’s always something fascinating to see.

Best of the Piedmont

The Piedmont area of North Carolina is typically very heavily forested, which makes for some great spots to walk in the woods. Here are my favorite Piedmont parks:

  1. Eno River: Easily my favorite Piedmont state park (probably because of its proximity to where I live), Eno River has the best network of diverse hiking trails. For an area that has so many people, this park offers a terrific slice of solitude.
  2. Raven Rock: A popular park with some great trails to interesting geological features. The staircase down the namesake cliff is quite lengthy, so come prepared for a climb!
  3. Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve: This small park is a hidden gem. The hiking trails here are very easy, winding through a very unique long-leaf pine forest. Underbrush in this forest is nearly non-existent, which means you can see a long ways through the stands of trees. Definitely a park not to be missed!

Best of the Coast

Some of the most unique state parks in North Carolina are located along the coast. Here are my favorites:

  1. Jockey’s Ridge: Walking up the tallest living sand-dune on the east coast of the United States is something everyone should do. Just be sure to have your shoes on in the summertime: the sand can get quite hot!
  2. Goose Creek: Tucked along the Pamlico River, this park has an impressive boardwalk system. Strolling these boardwalks makes for some terrific sightseeing, and provides a glimpse at what natural life is like in the swamp along a river. Another hidden gem!
  3. Carolina Beach: Have you ever hiked in a forest at the beach? You can do so at this state park, where you’ll also find carnivorous plants in their native habitats. Keep your eyes peeled for Venus fly-traps and pitcher plants!

Honorable Mention

Of all the state parks I’ve visited, I had more pure fun at Merchants Millpond than any other. Canoeing in the millpond there is a delight, especially on a comfortable day. You’ll see plenty of wildlife (including alligators!) and you won’t want the experience to end. This park has good hiking opportunities too, so it’s win-win.

My Least Favorites

Three state parks truly stand out in my mind for least impressive hiking opportunities:

  1. Pettigrew: With only one hiking trail (and a poorly maintained one at that, at least when I visited), this park isn’t for hikers. If you like boating, however, you’ll love the lake at this park, which happens to be North Carolina’s second largest natural one.
  2. Lake Waccamaw: Again, this is primarily a boater’s paradise. Hiking here is difficult (the trails aren’t very well maintained), and the hike isn’t very interesting.
  3. Singletary Lake: This park is only open to large groups, so hiking here is a challenge. The trails that are offered, like many lake-centered state parks, are fairly short.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this round-up of my visits to various North Carolina state parks. I encourage everyone to visit them all, as it’s a great way to see our beautiful state!

Merchants Millpond State Park

Published on May 3, 2011

Last Friday, I took some time off from work to visit another one of North Carolina’s State Parks. This time around, I checked out Merchants Millpond, up in Gates County (in the northeastern part of the state). This may be one of the most beautiful parks I’ve been to. One may canoe or kayak in the pond (canoes can be rented from the visitor’s center), and though I didn’t do that on this trip, I’ll definitely be back to do so.

The pond is home to the American alligator, with this location being at the northern extent of their range. I didn’t see any alligators on this trip, but I did get a chance to see quite a lot of other wildlife, including wild turkeys, a number of skinks and lizards, several snakes, turtles, and plenty of birds. I’m sure you would encounter even more wildlife while canoeing around the pond.

As usual, I took my camera along with me and took some photos of the park. I highly recommend visiting this gem in the North Carolina state park system.

Festival for the Eno

Published on June 24, 2009

The 30th annual Festival for the Eno is coming up next weekend, July 3-5. If you’re in the Triangle area in North Carolina, be sure to check it out. Tickets are $15 at the gate, and most (if not all) of the money goes to conserving the Eno River. The event is “trash free” (over 90% of trash is either recycled or composted) and a great way to spend a day. Over 80 musical and dance groups will be performing on 4 stages during the 3 days. Add to this great food, art vendors, and the beautiful West Point on the Eno setting, and you have a recipe for a great time.

I’ll most likely be out there on Friday; if you see me, be sure to say hello!

Kayaking Fun

Published on August 1, 2008

My dad and I took a 4-hour kayaking class this afternoon, from the folks at Frog Hollow Outdoors. The “intro to kayaking” class was incredibly thorough, and I learned a ton about how to kayak correctly. Topics covered included a number of various paddling strokes, wet exits (what to do when your kayak flips upside down with you in it), deep water rescues, and more. It’s some of the best $68 I’ve ever spent. I had a blast, learned way more than I thought I would, and got excellent exercise (I’m so tired at the moment).

If you’re in the Triangle area, and you’re looking for a way to learn about kayaking (or canoeing for that matter), check out Frog Hollow. Our particular instructor, a guy by the name of Banks, was incredibly knowledgeable and very friendly. It was well worth the trip, and I’d do it again in a heart beat. My next goal: river kayaking fundamentals. I can’t wait.

Farmer’s Day Photo Album

Published on September 3, 2007

I have posted a new photo album from this year’s Old Fashioned Farmer’s Day event in Silk Hope, NC. This year’s album includes two short movies, showing a hit-and-miss engine in action, as well as the giant steam engine. Had I known more about the video feature of my camera, the results would probably have been better.

Spring Trip to the NC Zoo

Published on June 8, 2007

My family and I took a trip to the North Carolina Zoo earlier this week. As I normally do these days, I took my camera along and got lots of great photos. So many of my photographs turned out so well, that I think this may be my best photo album yet. A trusty monopod (which I got for Christmas last year) helped out tremendously in the darker exhibits.

Our trip this time primarily focused on the African exhibits (we spent the majority of our time on our previous trip in the American exhibits). The great thing about the NC Zoo is that there are so many things to see. In fact, it’s hard to see it all in one day!

Wanted: Physical Fitness

Published on March 12, 2007

One ill side effect of being a computer geek is a lack of physical exercise. My typing and mousing fingers are in great shape. Sadly, the rest of me has only gotten worse over time. In fact, I think I can safely say that I am in the worst shape of my life at the moment. The typical out-of-shape physical ailments seem to follow me around all the time: aches, pains, and a general lack of energy. Seeing that I can’t improve this area by continuing to sit around, I’ve decided to (try and) do something about it.

Thankfully, my employer offers a nice deal (a small monetary bonus) to motivate physical activity. I signed up to participate this year, thinking that a little coin would provide that extra push I need to start exercising. How and where to exercise is my first major hurdle. I’d rather avoid a gym if I could, mainly because I don’t want to (a) pay for a membership and (b) spend time driving to and from the place. I could avoid point (b) by using the gym at work, but I still have to pay. Buying a piece of exercise equipment for home would be cool, but I don’t have the room at the moment, and most good exercise equipment isn’t cheap.

So long story short: I’ve decided to start out by spending 30 minutes walking the paved trail around the gym here at work. I clearly won’t be able to do this when it’s raining, and it won’t be the most comfortable when it gets hot, but it’s at least a start. Some exercise is clearly better than none, right? Plus, the weather is just starting to get nice, so it’ll be good to get a little fresh air. I also hope to walk over at Eno River State Park more often on the weekends, which should give me a substantially higher workout (since the trails are often quite hilly).

In what ways do you exercise? Got any tips for a newbie like myself?

Backyard Burn

Published on November 5, 2006

My dad and I had our first leaf-burn of the season yesterday, and I took some photographs of our work. It’s quite fun to live out in the country where this kind of thing isn’t against a city ordinance (and is, therefore, quite legal). Judging by all the leaves still on the trees, there will be a number of fires yet to go. Good times!

On an unrelated note, I’ve been tweaking the style used at this blog. Most notably, the line spacing here at the site has been increased. I think it makes things a little less cluttered looking, and easier on the eyes as a result. Comments? Suggestions? As always, let me know.

Farming Fun

Published on September 2, 2006

My dad and I attended Old Fashioned Farmers’ Day today, as we do every Labor Day. As always, it was a real blast, and I’ve put up a substantial photo album of our trip. For those who may not know, Old Fashioned Farmers’ Day is an event held in Silk Hope, North Carolina, every Labor Day weekend. It is sponsored by the Ruritans of Silk Hope, and provides a glimpse of the way farming was done in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Steam engines, old tractors, a working saw-mill, classic cars, hit-and-miss engines, and more make up the event. And let’s not forget the oh-so-awesome homemade ice cream, churned via a steam powered engine! I highly recommend the event for people in the central North Carolina area. Highly enjoyable.

New Year’s Fun

Published on January 1, 2006

One of the benefits of living in the country is the ability one has to burn yard waste (doing so in the land of cul-de-sacs not only provokes complaints from the neighbors; it’s against the law in many places). I have always enjoyed having a fire outside, and now that my family lives out in the country, we can do just that. My father and I recently built a pit out in our back yard, using some decorative bricks we brought over from our previous house. And today we got a chance to have our very first fire! We had a significant pile of sticks (and even some giant logs) that had collected in our front yard, and today we got rid of the entire pile. Not to mention the thousands of leaves we cleaned up. Excitingly enough, there’s still a ton of stuff lying around for us to have another fire (or three). But we thoroughly enjoyed our time today, taking part in a simple country pleasure.

In a completely unrelated topic, I completed Chaos Theory this evening. The game is excellent and I plan to play through it again, this time using a little more care in each mission. Upon completing the game, I was instantly shown the credits (no end movie). Thinking this strange, I took a look at some stuff on the web that indicated that and ending movie was indeed supposed to play. It turns out that I accidentally pressed the mouse button the instant the movie started playing, skipping through the movie to the end. Games should be smarter than that. Cut-scenes should have a short delay before the player can skip by them, preventing accidental clicks or key presses from skipping over the content. One or two seconds should suffice. Regardless, I really enjoyed the game and I highly recommend it to any Splinter Cell (or stealth based game) fans.

Star Light, Star Bright

Published on October 29, 2005

One of the greatest things about our new house is the lack of light pollution at night. I’ve seen more stars here at this house than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Our last house was located in the land of cul-de-sacs, and all of the lighting made it nearly impossible to see dim objects. We were, however, able to see a number of fairly bright objects including the International Space Station, the MIR space station (before it crashed into the Earth), and the Hubble Space Telescope. All of this was thanks to Heavens-Above, an awesome website that helps you figure out when and where to look for satellites (and other celestial events).

I stepped outside tonight for a few moments and saw a total of three meteors crashing into Earth’s atmosphere. That’s something I never would have seen at our other house. Sometimes, it’s good to be in the dark.

Fun in the Sun

Published on August 20, 2005

I did something today that I rarely do anymore: I spent time in the sun. Although a great portion of my childhood was spent in the great outdoors, I have since become an indoor creature. The result is my characteristically geeky, pale skin tone, which can’t hold up to those pesky ultraviolet rays like it once could. Needless to say, I am thoroughly cooked on my shoulders and neck. Hopefully that won’t give me too much of a problem in the coming days.

My reason for actually going out today was a pool party for the tenth grade Sunday school class I co-teach. Tomorrow is our final time together, as well as the final time I will actually be able to be called a teacher (I’m stepping down from that role for a while). I have taught a Sunday school for a number of years now (somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 or 6 years), so I will miss it a great deal. The class we have now is by far the best I’ve ever taught. If any of them happen to read this, they should know that I love each one greatly and will miss seeing them each week.

On a rather sour note, I have apparently been re-infected with whatever viral infection bothered me a few weeks ago. From the highly annoying cough to my joint aches and pains, I can truly say that I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. Oh how I long for no more tissues and cough drops!

Kayaking for Fun

Published on August 7, 2005

This weekend, my father and I tried out kayaking for the first time at Raleigh’s Lake Johnson. For only $4 per person, we were able to rent a kayak, a life vest and the paddle (all you need). Having never taken part in this activity before, we were woefully unprepared, but have since learned several valuable lessons. The kayaks we rented were the “sit-on-top” variety, and took quite a bit of getting used to. I’ve never sat in that sort of position for very long, and my legs certainly felt it once we were done.

What lessons did we learn? Actually, quite a few. Interestingly enough, the kayaks have holes in the bottom of them, so you end up getting fairly wet. Our jean-shorts were ill-prepared for such an endeavor, so we’ll remember to wear bathing suits next time. Likewise, sandals or flip-flops are a must (we left our sneakers and socks in the car and went barefoot). Sunscreen is also a must, and a sleeveless shirt would certainly help with temperature control. And I need some sort of kayaking gloves, as the blisters on my hands indicate.

Other than these minor problems, the trip was a blast. We are definitely going to try it again, and I may even spring for a kayak of my own if we continue to have as much fun as we did this weekend. If you’ve never given it a try, I heartily recommend it. Now if only we could give some whitewater kayaking a try…

Man It’s Hot

Published on July 25, 2005

We are experiencing some wickedly hot temperatures here in North Carolina. It’s forecast to be 99 degrees today (heat indicies of 105-110) and 101 degrees tomorrow (heat indicies of 110-115). And it even continues into Wednesday! With temperatures like this, there’s virtually nothing you can do except stay indoors. I’m sure plenty of people are heading to their local pool or swimming hole, but I prefer to stay in the A/C. Plus, I’ve been sick, so swimming around wouldn’t do me any good anyways. Thankfully, it looks like things will cool off this coming weekend. Autumn just can’t get here fast enough!

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