Perhaps you think it’s too hot to hike. A reasonable assumption, given the recent spate of upper 90-degree days — and that was before summer had officially begun.
But there are some North Carolina hikes you can take even on the hottest of days. Some rely on nearby water to cool your heated heels, some rely on elevation and the fact that for every thousand feet of elevation gained the temperature drops between 3 and 5 degrees. And still others rely on quirks of nature that create oases of cool (or relative cool) in the midday heat.
Here are five of our favorite too-cool-for-summer hikes.
- Hanging Rock State Park
We’ll be up front about the 4.7-mile Moore’s Wall Loop Trail at Hanging Rock: you will work up a good sweat on your way up to 2,579-foot Moore’s Knob. Hiked clockwise, the climb up Moore’s Wall is a long, steady grind.
The climb is worth it, however, for the 360-degree views up top that, on a clear day, let you peer deep into the Piedmont, the Blue Ridge, Virginia. There’s also a chance for a nice breeze up top, but that’s not what makes this one cool hike. If you start from the bathhouse access you’ll end at the bathhouse access — and at the 12-acre lake, which promises to erase any heat-induced thoughts. A nice beach, a diving platform in the middle, cooling waters down below. It’s the ultimate cool carrot.
Deep Gap Trail
- Mount Mitchell State Park
On the last Sunday in June, after a week of temperatures in the mid- to upper-90s, our GetHiking! North Carolina’s Classic Hikes crew stood in the parking lot at Mount Mitchell State Park bundled like a team of arctic explorers. The temperature at 9 a.m.: 44 degrees. The eventual high for the day: 59.
When folks talk about Mount Mitchell being in another world, they aren’t just talking about the boreal forest that dominates the top of the mountain. Snow has been recorded here every month of the year (including 36 inches in 24 hours on March 13, 1993), temperatures eclipsing 70 are uncommon and the hottest it’s ever been atop the mountain is 81. Enjoy the nip in the air as you hike the Deep Gap Trail north to Mount Craig (6,648 feet), Big Tom (6,651 feet), Balsam Cone (6,596 feet) and beyond.
White Pines Nature Preserve
- Confluence of the Deep and Rock rivers, south of Pittsboro
Some 10,000 years ago, the Piedmont was one chilly place. Then the latest ice age began to fade, the glaciers retreated, the temperatures warmed. As a result, most of the cool weather flora and fauna associated with the region retreated as well — to the north or to higher climes. Yet not all of the Piedmont became inhospitable to these cool-loving plants and animals.
At the 275-acre White Pines Nature Preserve, a combination of 100-foot-high hills and steep, north-facing slopes result in an ice box of sorts — the temperature here is often 10 degrees cooler than in nearby Pittsboro — where the white pine thrives. With 2.5-miles of hiking trail, it’s possible to explore nearly all of this Piedmont slice of the Appalachians.
- Pisgah National Forest
- Caldwell County
At the base of massive Grandfather Mountain sits a rugged 49,000-acre area known by the area’s main drainage, Wilson Creek. Taking a cue from its big brother up the Blue Ridge escarpment, it is known for its exposed rock and its rough-and-tumble, let’s-play attitude. Add to that the runoff from Grandfather’s southeast flank and you’ve got an outdoors playground where a hiking trail may be in the water as much as it is out.
A favorite is the Harper Creek Trail, which you can pick up two miles north of the Wilson Creek Visitor Center. Hike about an hour up to the impressive Harper Creek Falls, which drop into an icy pool. Continue upstream on a hike that snuggles up to Harper Creek and, later, North Harper Creek and other falls along the way. Hiking sandals and water shorts advised.
Mountains-to-Sea Trail, south of Graveyard Fields
- Pisgah National Forest
- North of Brevard
Graveyard Fields, located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 418.8, is a popular hiking destination in its own right, with miles of trail exploring a landscape left barren by a pair of devastating fires nearly a century ago. The statewide, 1,150-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail cuts through Graveyard Fields, and it’s about here that the trail heading east has its first encounters with cascades.
Along Yellowstone Prong you’ll encounter Upper Falls, Second Falls and Yellowstone Falls along with smaller opportunities to take a break in mountain waters above 5,000 feet. Easy access, great summertime hiking.