Locals reveal their favorite spots for in-town adventure
It’s five o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. You want to get outside after a long day of work or classes, but you don’t have the time to drive two hours to your favorite hike or crag.
Athletes and adventurers from across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast show us their favorite spots in their hometowns and how they get outside on a regular basis.
For trail runner Aimee Trepanier, the more time she can spend outside during the day, the better.
“When I realized I could transition from road running to trail running, incorporating longer periods outside, that’s what hooked me,” she said. “If I’m not getting outside on a daily basis, something is seriously wrong in my life.”
The easiest way she finds to get outside is her commute to work every day.
“Most of my days, I’m either going to run or bike to work on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is just gold for me and a lot of people that live in Greenville,” Trepanier said. “The trail pretty much connects the main sections of Greenville. I live more on the Travelers Rest end, but I work in downtown.”
The Swamp Rabbit Trail is paved, which works well for commuting.
“If I need to ride my bike on the main roads, I’m pretty comfortable with that,” Trepanier said. “But a lot of people aren’t, and it’s not super safe. So, the trail gets you off of the main roads to something that’s for pedestrians and bikers only. It’s super safe and beautiful. You go through the city, neighborhoods, and parts that truly are like a swamp. Then it connects you into downtown Falls Park area and you can add extra miles touring around there.”
But when Trepanier wants to get on some real trails in the city, she heads to Paris Mountain State Park.
“That’s literally in the heart of Greenville,” she said. “You can get 15 to 20 miles out there easy. It offers you everything, from technical terrain to hard climbs and nice flowy pieces. You really get a good sense of all things trail.”
On the weekend, Trepanier will drive about half an hour to Jones Gap State Park or Table Rock State Park for more trails and miles.
“Those trails are not only well maintained and a lot of fun, but they have some gorgeous views of waterfalls that are hard to beat,” she said. “They’re easy to get to. You don’t have to plan a whole day around your activity and travel.”
When she does travel farther out to Pisgah National Forest or Great Smoky Mountains National Park for longer runs, Trepanier makes sure to have all her gear ready to keep herself motivated.
“If I’m going to be driving, I live out of my car,” she said. “I have a bucket of all my trail gear, extra clothes, water bottles. It’s a bit of an investment up front to pay for it. But I found that if I can keep it in my car, keep it on me, then there’s no real excuse to not get out.”
Going into his fourth-year racing downhill, mountain biker Angelo Wash is kicking it up a notch.
“I figured this year I would move up to Cat One for the challenge and to push myself more,” he said. “I was playing baseball at a competitive level and I’m just competitive, so I got to keep that going. I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s pretty much that last step before you take the leap to go pro.”
Originally from Richmond, there are plenty of spots for Wash to get on his bike around the city.
“My favorite place to go is the first place I was introduced to biking, Powhite Park,” he said. “I can literally walk from my job to this place. That’s my favorite little spot to go to when I just want to get away and ride. I can leave work, get right over there, and do an hour of riding.”
Just down the road, the James River Park System also offers a place to get away right on the water.
“You can get 30 miles in the city and still see the skyline,” Wash said. “That’s how sweet that is. I have a few friends, especially once it gets hot, they will do a lap around the river and then the next thing I know, those guys are swimming in the river. There’s just a lot to do when you go down to the river. When you’re finished riding, you don’t have to pack up and head home.”
Both of these parks are conveniently located in town and offer the kind of trails Wash is looking for.
“I like natural features,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love a flow trail. Everybody loves a flow trail. Powhite is still very much raw. It still has the roots and ruts and rocks. The stuff around the river has the same thing but you get a little bit more elevation and distance.”
Closer to his new home in Petersburg, Va., Wash discovered a quieter place to ride on the trails at Petersburg National Battlefield.
“It’s more double track than single track but you can get a decent 10 miles in there, he said. “It’s a pretty cool site because you’re actually on the battlefield. You’re seeing big craters. They still have the canons out. You can ride along the Appomattox River. It’s kind of similar to features at the James River System but a lot of people don’t know about it because it’s Petersburg and it’s still coming up.”
When the warm weather rolls around, Wash heads to the Snowshoe Bike Park in West Virginia for his more intense training for downhill events.
“I call it my backyard and home away from home because once the summer starts, I’m always there,” Wash said. “Last year, I was at Snowshoe for 32 days and I think we only get 90 days of summer.”
DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia)
While the museums and history of downtown D.C. receive a lot of attention, those who live and play in the DMV area know there is plenty to do outside.
Gabrielle Dickerson, a climber living and working in the Southern Maryland area, has plenty of options when it comes to getting outside.
“My favorite place, especially for getting my friends out that haven’t climbed outside, is Great Falls Park,” she said. “That’s a really great top roping place and it’s really great to take people who haven’t been outside as often. For bouldering, the first place I ever climbed outside was Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park in Silver Spring. People have their opinions about it, but it’s got a special place in my heart because that was the first place I ever went bouldering. The first boulder is a two- to three-minute walk from the parking lot. There’s a good amount of warm up climbs if you want an endurance workout and harder climbs if you want to project stuff.”
“Patapsco State Park is great to go hang out in and hike after work because I am in an office behind a computer all day,” she said. “So sometimes I just have to get outside. My coworkers and I, after work, will just go out hiking for a little bit and grab a beer afterwards.”
If she wants a full day of climbing, Dickerson will head towards Frederick, Md. for Catoctin Mountain Park or Cunningham Falls State Park.
“I really love that area because not only is it a climbing place, it’s a great hiking place,” Dickerson said. “So, if you bring friends who aren’t super psyched about climbing, they can hike. Cunningham Falls, you hike up to a waterfall and there are four or five different boulders that have quite a few climbs on them. Afterwards, there’s a lake that we can go hang out in.”
During the week, Dickerson will head to one of several Earth Treks climbing gyms in the area. One day on the weekend she also works as a climbing instructor at Earth Treks Hamden. For those interested in getting into climbing, Dickerson remembers the feeling of starting out.
“Don’t be intimidated,” she said. “I remember my first day walking into Earth Treks Rockville and everyone looked like they knew what they were doing. I felt like I didn’t belong, like I was this newbie who didn’t belong. If you’re getting into climbing, just embrace it and have fun.”
Now as a leader for Brown Girls Climb, Dickerson is helping more people experience the sport.
“I love bringing people out climbing,” Dickerson said. “Don’t think that you’re going to be a burden to anyone because you’re not as experienced. Because we all started off not being experienced. I am super appreciative of the people who took me outside and so I always want to be that resource for someone else. We all belong in the climbing space. We all belong in the outdoor space.”
The Hargrove Family
The Hargroves, a family of six whitewater kayakers, got their start in the sport because of their location. Matt Hargrove had just started paddling when the dam was breached on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Ga.
The community came together to build an urban whitewater center right in downtown. Once the park was finished, it became something for the whole family to do together.
“We’re concentrating on doing things as a family and having the Chattahoochee Whitewater Park in our town has been instrumental in allowing us to grow closer as a family and doing things outside,” Melissa Hargrove said. “It’s five miles from our house. It’s just beautiful training ground.”
The eldest Hargrove, Mason, 15, is currently ranked number one in the nation for his age group and will be representing the United States at the World Championships in July. Makinley Kate, 11, and Mary Claire, 9, are getting more comfortable on the water and starting to compete. Mathis, the youngest at 5, just got his first kayak for Christmas to paddle around on flatwater, although he will go down the rapids in dad’s lap.
“We have amazing whitewater,” Hargrove said. “People sometimes don’t understand what we have in Columbus, Ga. There’s not as many families and kids out there as we want to see. We’re hoping to make it not just focused on people doing amazing tricks in the waves, but it can be fun family time. Our warmer water and multiple features have something for everyone. From flat water to class IV rapids our whole family, of different ages and athletic abilities, enjoys the connection and refreshment the river brings.”
This year, the Hargroves are partnering with Whitewater Express and Team River Runner to host Throwdown Thursdays on the river.
“Every Thursday, our family will have kayaks for people to try out and we’ll be down there to offer instruction,” Hargrove said. “Just to get more families and individuals on the water, learning our sport and encouraging others that with a little drive and sense of adventure, any size family, including children of any age, can enjoy jumping into a kayak or on a SUP board.”
When the family is not on the river together, they’re enjoying the Chattahoochee RiverWalk and downtown Columbus.
“We go ride bikes, find picnic spots,” Hargrove said. “There’s a splash pad in the summer. There’s rafting and ziplining as well right there. During the heat of the summer when we’re not on the water, being inside at the climbing gym is a lot of fun. There’s so much to do right there.”
Hargrove said these moments, where the family is able to get outside together, bring her so much joy.
“Get out there and do it with them,” she said. “When we go to baseball practice, soccer, or dance, we’re sitting on the sidelines watching them. And it’s fun, but being out there doing it with them, whether it’s in a kayak or riding a bike, creates memories that they’re going to carry on to their children.”
When ultra-athlete John Hardin looked around Nashville, he didn’t see any extreme athlete events. He teamed up with his adventure partner, Cody Goodwin, to start HardWin Adventures and create those events.
“The whole goal was to create a trail running community in Nashville,” Hardin said. “Chattanooga and Knoxville had something that we thought was imperative that we start something in our area.”
Now in their seventh year, they put on seven running events and a paddling event around the area.
“At the beginning, it was very stressful and hard because we didn’t have a community,” Hardin said. “Now we have this huge volunteer army that comes out and helps. All these trail runners have really taken on to it.”
Hardin, who grew up exploring the big parks in the area, is now passing on his sense of adventure to his son. On Mondays, the father and son go rock climbing.
“It’s basically getting on things that he feels comfortable with,” Hardin said. “He only does four routes but he’s only four years old. It’s small things to set his foundation.”
Climb Nashville has two locations in the city, offering a variety of routes for beginning and experienced climbers.
They go swimming on Tuesdays and run the track together at the local YMCA on Wednesdays. Other days, Hardin spends his time exploring the area on his own and with friends.
“I say this with a bit of caution, but we have a huge game reserve next to us called the Cheatham County Game Reserve,” he said. “It’s about 22,000 acres and it has tons of trails on it. Nobody knows about it. It’s this huge forest right on the outside of Nashville. You have to be careful. If people are hunting, you shouldn’t be out there. But you can go when people are not hunting.”
When he has more time, Hardin will head towards Northern Tennessee to explore the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
“The Big South Fork, I think, is the next climbing mecca of the South,” he said. “The walls out there are phenomenal and there’s so many of them. People just don’t know about it. The routes are hard to get to because there’s no trail system set up in some of the areas.”
More Urban Adventures to Explore
Catawba River (Charlotte, N.C.)
Cool off on the Catawba River or stop by the U.S. Whitewater Center for rock climbing, ropes courses, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting.
The Philly Pumptrack (Philadelphia, Penn.)
This bike park is free and open to the community in downtown Philadelphia. They even have a stock of bikes and helmets for visitors to use without charge.
Legacy Trail (Lexington, Ky.)
For 12 miles, the Legacy Trail connects downtown Lexington with neighborhoods, parks, and the Kentucky Horse Park.
Saluda and Broad Rivers (Columbia, S.C.)
In the heart of South Carolina’s capitol, the Saluda and Broad Rivers meet to form the Congaree River. Whether you’re looking for churning rapids or a peaceful float, you’ll find one of Columbia’s rivers fits your speed.
PATH Parkway (Atlanta, Ga.)
The PATH Parkway may only be 1.5 miles, but it connects several important locations in downtown Atlanta, including the Centennial Olympic Park, headquarters for the Coca-Cola Company, and Georgia Aquarium.
Kanawha River (Charleston, W.Va.)
The Kanawha River winds through Charleston, connecting downtown, green spaces, and the West Virginia State Capitol. For a scenic float through mountains and forests, check out one of the Kanawha’s tributaries, the Coal River Walhonde Water Trail.
French Broad River Greenway (Asheville, N.C.)
Walk, run, or bike beside the historic French Broad River, flowing through the heart of Asheville. Or get in the water on a kayak, standup paddleboard, or tube for a summer float.
Frick Park (Pittsburgh, Penn.)
There are plenty of places to explore in this extensive 644-acre park. Follow the trail along Nine Mile Run to where it empties into the Monongahela River or search for one of the more than 100 species of birds that have been documented in the park.
Kemper Park (Charlottesville, Va.)
There are miles of trails around Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an arboretum showcasing native species, and an outdoor amphitheater.
Find Your People
For North Carolina photographer Cathy Anderson, her love for the art started at a young age. There are photos of her as a young girl, developing negatives in the dark room with her dad.
Most of Anderson’s early work focused on portraits, but she started moving into landscape photography when she discovered the Linville Gorge was right in her backyard.
“Sometimes, my life as a portrait photographer will get so busy that I’ll just take my camera and get lost on top of a mountain,” she said. “My passion is the Linville Gorge. I would be happy hiking there for the rest of my life because there’s something amazingly beautiful about it and there’s something different around every corner.”
From there, Anderson started meeting more people in the adventure community who introduced her to a whole new world.
“I found a huge passion to start photographing and highlighting the athletes who exist within the world that I love so much,” she said. “Adventure photography is what helped me come in to who I am today.”
The highliners, long-distance hikers, and explorers, the people Anderson now calls her adventure family, have helped her find her niche in the photography world.
“They’re doing things you never thought you could do,” she said. “They seem almost like rock stars, which they are to me. When you think of a rock star, you think they’re unapproachable. If you just take that inhibition away and you go say hello, they are some of the most loving and supportive people that you have ever met. They’re there to share a central love for something, whether it be highlining, photography, hiking, whatever. All of these people are not only willing to help you, but collectively respect the environment. It just took one step for me to be encircled by a world and community of people who I never thought would want to commune with me. Just come out one day to a highlining meeting. You’ll understand.”