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New to hiking? Looking for new trails? Meet your virtual adventure guide.

By Joe Miller | October 26, 2020 | 3 min read | Healthy Lifestyle, Explore NC

Hikers' feet and walking sticks on the trail

When you’re new to hiking, trying to figure out which trails to hike can be daunting. Trail ratings help, but what exactly do “Easy” and “Intermediate” mean? (“Difficult” is a little less ambiguous.)

Then you wonder about the condition of the trail: Is it well-marked and easy to follow? Is the trail surface smooth or is it peppered with rocks and tree roots? Is it wide enough to walk side-by-side with my partner, or is it narrow, forcing us to walk single-file? Will it be crowded?

On that last note, check out my guide to finding the trails less traveled this fall.

So many questions — and so many more that won’t occur to you until you’re on the trail.

I know, because I’ve been answering those questions for the past 28 years, initially as an outdoor adventure writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh and author of six books on adventure (with a seventh in progress). And for the last decade, I’ve also been a guide, taking people on everything from one-hour day hikes to extended backpack trips. My overriding focus with both writing and guiding: introducing the uninitiated to the trail.

So yes, I’m familiar with the questions someone new to hiking might have. And every Friday morning, on Facebook Live, I try to answer some of those questions, as well as make hiking recommendations for the weekend ahead. I make those recommendations based on a number of factors, including:

Joe Miller and three other hikers at a lookout point
  • Seasonal significance. Is the trail especially colorful in the fall? Is it evergreen year-round, making for a nice winter hike? Is there a profusion of wildflowers along the way, making it a good spring option?
  • Difficulty. I generally make three recommendations, with at least two leaning toward beginner/intermediate hikers.
  • Length. I used to think the farther you hiked the better. Then I discovered that people like to stop and smell the roses (literally in some cases, but more often it’s the galax, the honeysuckle and any number of other aromatic plants). Typically, I’ll recommend hikes of anywhere from 2 to 6 miles.
  • Kid/dog friendly. Dogs are usually welcome, albeit almost always on leash. And as most parents know, an outdoor outing needs to have some sort of “Wow!” factor to pique their kid’s interest.
  • Highlights. A great view, running water, a surprise pond or lake: what makes the trail especially compelling?

Best of all, for the three hikes I discuss, I’ve also compiled a 2- to 3-page guide, including the above, plus information on how to get to the trailhead, a map of the route, and a detailed route description, including mileage and what you’ll find. Watch the Facebook Live report — it comes on around 8 a.m., but it’s available in reruns throughout the day — and you’ll receive a code to download the guides for free throughout the ensuing weekend. I also have tip sheets on various aspects of hiking that I make available as well.

There’s one other thing I take into consideration with my Friday recommendations, and it’s a big one: crowds.

If the forecast calls for cloudless skies and temperatures in the 60s during peak leaf season, I’m not going to recommend the places most likely to be overrun: trails that originate from Visitor Centers or large paved parking lots, for instance. Rather, I’ll recommend some of the lesser-known gems that I’ve stumbled upon over the past 28 years.

I usually do these Facebook Live reports while walking one of the trails recommended, thus giving you preview. (Each guide includes a link to a video tour.) I ramble (and ramble on) for 15 to 20 minutes, about the time it takes to drink that first cup of morning coffee.

Coffee and a walk in the woods: could there possibly be a better way to get a jump on the weekend? Join me Fridays on Facebook Live. And remember to check this blog for monthly posts from me about outdoor adventures you can try across North Carolina.