Five of the most beautiful hikes in North Carolina
1. Flower Hill Nature Preserve, Johnston County
For years, the place to be in Johnston County in early May was Flower Hill. It’s the site of one of the easternmost stands of Catawba rhododendron — a “freak of nature,” according to North Carolina naturalist B.W. Wells — which just happens to bloom around Mother’s Day.
In 1937 alone, some 4,760 visitors signed the registration book at the event. People came from throughout the state and as far as New England to see the bloom. It sits on the steep, north-facing bluff above Moccasin Creek. The half-mile trail in lets you observe the rhododendrons both from above and below, along the shaded creek. Learn more.
2. Ribbonwalk Nature Preserve, Charlotte
What’s so endearing about Ribbonwalk is that of its two dozen sibling nature preserves in Mecklenburg County, it’s one of the lesser appreciated. In part because it’s small — just 187 acres. And in part because you don’t know it’s there unless you stumble upon it, so well is it concealed.
But then, once inside, oh what an oasis, a rich collection of 106 species of herbaceous plants, 78 of woody plants, 53 bird species and 24 species of butterflies. Irwin Creek runs through the preserve, at one point past a grove of beech trees dating back 150 to 200 years. An easy three-mile hike. Learn more.
3. Knight Brown Nature Preserve, Stokesdale.
Dropping down to Belews Creek into the heart of this 189-acre preserve north off Greensboro is like descending into another world. Descending on the aptly named Beechwood Bottomland Loop takes you through a stand of ancient beech trees. A waterfall tumbles into Belews Creek via a tributary, while the creek itself offers a rocky salute to mountain streams found 75 miles west.
The Creekside Loop trail, 3.3 miles long, offers a mellow climb up one of the surrounding ridges, likewise the Leatherwood Loop. The robust canopy and sheltered location makes this a pretty hike, and a pretty decent trek in the heat of summer, too. Learn more.
4. Brunswick Nature Park, Winnabow
For starters, there aren’t a lot of places to hike in the Wilmington area. But the 3.5 miles of hiking trail here more than make up for the overall dearth of trails.
This is coastal hiking at its best, offering a microcosm of the coastal experience. It’s family-friendly trail, it’s great for birdwatching, and the stretch of trail along Town Creek is especially scenic.
Got a canoe or kayak? An even better way to experience the creek — and there’s river access. Learn more.
5. Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Rattlesnake Lodge, Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 375
If you’re a bit of a romantic, you’ll like this steep, half-mile hike that leads to Rattlesnake Lodge, the one-time summer home to Dr. Chase P. Ambler and family. For 14 years, it was a welcome escape for the family. Then, in 1918 Ambler’s wife died and he never returned to their summer escape.
Though the lodge itself is largely gone, part of the enjoyment of this hike is searching for signs of its past: the spring-fed swimming pool, the barn, the lodge itself. Learn more.