2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina

This statewide initiative from the N.C. Great Trails Coalition and State Parks invites us to hike, bike, paddle and explore outside.
by Addie Ladner | photos courtesy of the Great Trails Station Coalition

Hiking Mt. Mitchell in Burnsville, you might think you’re in Canada: Its peak sits more than 6,000 feet above sea level, the highest point in the eastern United States. Here, in the oldest North Carolina State Park, the weather is colder and windier, forested with Frasier Firs and Spruce Pines.

It’s dramatically different from the eastern part of the state, where you can paddle the Queen’s Creek Trail along the tributaries of the Intracoastal Waterway through maritime forests and marshlands at Hammocks Beach State Park.

Or from the trails of Occoneechee Mountain Natural Area in Hillsborough, which take you through shrubs of mountain laurel and rhododendron, tracing the Eno River. 

It’s a wonder that one can experience all of these ecosystems within the 500 miles of North Carolina. In the Triangle alone, trails offer variation and respite from our bustling urban areas. The Reedy Creek Greenway, for example, weaves through the forest behind the North Carolina Museum of Art.

In Durham, the American Tobacco Trail runs along an abandoned railroad. Each of these trails connects us to this state, its history, its future and one another. “When you hike a trail, you know you’re connected to something much bigger,” says Palmer McIntyre with Piedmont Trails Coalition. 

Much of this is thanks to the North Carolina State Trails Act. Launched in 1973, it was designed to encourage people to experience the nature of North Carolina.

And this year, to honor its 50th anniversary, the North Carolina Great Trails Coalition, the North Carolina State Parks and dozens of other outdoor and recreation nonprofits are celebrating “The Year of the Trail.” It’s a statewide initiative to move, breathe, think and connect — outside, on trails.

 “We’re really trying to tie things together. We want even more people discovering North Carolina’s amazing landscapes and communities,” says McIntyre, who is also the Year of the Trail director.

Throughout 2023, expect events, campaigns and education programs to encourage people to hit the trails. And, McIntyre reminds us, “Hiking isn’t the only trail experience to have. It might be paddling, biking or horseback riding. It can be on a natural surface, on a paved trail, in an urban or wilderness environment.”

The Year of the Trail initiative starts on Jan. 1, with First Day Hikes in recreation areas and state parks (visit greattrailsnc.com for more info) — but feel free to do your own thing, too. Says McIntyre: “We want people to start the year off with good intentions and get on the trails.”  

Explore our hike recommendations here

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.