What better way to explore the outdoors than to hit the trails? Adventure awaits in the woods, and with mother nature on the brink of showing off for Spring, there’s no better time than now to tug on the hiking shoes and get outside. Pack a picnic and bring the kids, or grab a friend and catch up as you trek the paths that relax your mind, refresh your soul, and take your breath away.
1. Shining Rock Wilderness, North Carolina
The Shining Rock Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in North Carolina. As part of the Pisgah National Forest, there are several diverse hiking trails to choose from. Two of the main access points are Art Loeb and Investor’s Gap (moderate and easy, respectively), which are both well-traveled trails, but have incredible views. The Art Loeb makes the ascent up the side of Cold Mountain where the Cold Mountain trail itself takes you all the way to the peak. It’s a strenuous hike – about 11 miles round-trip to the peak and back – but once you see the view from the top, you’ll be too amazed to feel tired.
2. DeSoto State Park, Alabama
One of the best places to go for a hike in Alabama is DeSoto State Park. The park is located on Lookout Mountain with gorgeous ridges, amazing waterfalls and a peaceful river. There are over 25 miles of hiking trails ranging anywhere from easy to expert. Take the DeSoto Scout Trail, a historic 16 mile trail with exits along the way. It follows along Little River all the way to Little River Canyon National Preserve, where you can find some of the most breathtaking waterfalls you’ve ever seen. Don’t forget to bring the camera – you’ll kick yourself if you don’t.
3. Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
How can you list places to go hiking in the Southeast without mentioning the Smoky Mountains? Whether you choose the North Carolina side or the Tennessee side, the Smokies won’t disappoint. To find a trailhead to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top, follow the Abrams Creek out of the Cades Cove picnic area, and you’ll find the Anthony Creek Trail. Grassy meadows, fragrant flowers and azaleas bursting with color will accompany you on this trail. Make frequent stops along the trail to take in your surroundings, some of the most regal views in the entire Smoky Mountains.
4. Sipsey Wilderness, Alabama
For a truly wild experience check out Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness. It is part of the Bankhead National Forest and is a popular wilderness area for both hikers and backpackers. There are many trails to choose from for a day hike or multiple-day backpacking trip. The Sipsey features waterfalls, free-flowing creeks, scenic overlooks and a yellow poplar named Big Tree that has become a star attraction. At 150-feet tall and 25-feet around, Big Tree is the largest specimen of poplar in Alabama.
5. Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, Virginia
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is as unique as it is beautiful. Home to remarkable wildflowers such as Virginia Bluebells and sessile trillium as well as rare species of flowers (please don’t pick them!), you’ll find yourself slowing down so that you don’t miss the streaks of color, tiny blooms and impressive hardwood trees. Go in the spring after a fresh rain and witness nature’s wonders as the creeks are swollen and spilling over into clear waterfalls and brilliant mushrooms peek up from the soil. Although this is a popular place to visit among the locals, please leave only footprints behind, as this beautiful atmosphere is threatened by the pollution and destruction of visitors. Grab a trail map and see just how many fun discoveries you can make along the way.
6. Jones Gap State Park, South Carolina
Get lost (in a good way) in Jones Gap State Park, where you’ll find little waterfalls at nearly every turn. There are many miles of trails to explore and find adventure in the great outdoors. The park requires registration before using the trails, for the protection of both hikers and nature. Count the beautiful cascades as you go, and notice the blooming flora and scampering fauna as you enjoy the quiet serenity of mother nature.
7. Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
There are few places as gorgeous as the Monongahela National Forest. With elevation ranges from 1000 feet to 4863 feet above sea level and diverse patterns of precipitation, it’s no wonder that this national forest is considered one of the most ecologically diverse in the country. Anything from the Cranberry Glades Botanical area to the Falls of Hills Creek, this paradise has much to explore.
8. Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina
North Carolina is rich in beauty and nature. There are so many opportunities to experience the earth through hiking with rolling hills crawling with wildlife, grassy meadows covered in carpets of flowers, and mountains that will make you forget everything in life to absorb the moment. Grandfather Mountain is a landmark that encompasses all that makes North Carolina unique, with 11 diverse trails to choose from fit for a party of one, or the entire family.
9. Radnor Lake State Park, Tennessee
Nestled in Nashville, Tennessee is Radnor Lake State Park, more than 1300 acres of forests and trails perfect for getting away from the city and entering the serene peace of the outdoors. The Natural Area preserves the natural state of the woods with rare wildflowers such as blood root and majestic wild life such as the bald eagles. It is a popular place for Nashville area residents to retreat into the woods and hit the trails for a breath of fresh air and scenic views.
10. Stone Mountain, Georgia
When I think hiking in Georgia, Stone Mountain is one of the first places that comes to mind. Although it’s a popular place to hit the trails, and for the most part isn’t strenuous, it’s still lots of fun. There are trails as short as ¾ mile, and as long as 5 miles. Each trail will provide a different experience of the park area, and trail maps are available to use as a guide. Although Stone Mountain itself as an attraction is highly commercialized, it is surrounded by natural getaways that will take you along side lakes, up to the top of the mountain for a panoramic scenic view, or even through a Nature Garden where you can enjoy colorful plants and flowers in all their spring glory.
Natalie Cone is a freelance writer from Birmingham, Alabama. As a nature enthusiast and mother of two boys, she writes articles about all things outdoors and blogs about the mishaps of motherhood. Her fiction short stories have won three first-place contest awards, and have appeared in various magazine publications and anthologies. Natalie can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NatalieWrites, on Twitter @nataliecone and in a field of flowers at springtime.