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5 fall hikes to help you regain your hiking groove

By Joe Miller | September 7, 2021 | Healthy Lifestyle, Explore NC, Fitness

Man and his dog hike up a grassy incline

It seems like forever since you’ve been on a hike; more specifically, since it’s been cool enough to think about hiking. But the sweep of cool weather this past week has reminded you that fall, and the fall hiking season, are around the corner.

While temperatures dipping into the 50s and crystal, cerulean skies make you want to hike, hike, hike, it’s important not to overdo it out the gate. Rather than five miles, hike two or three to start. And resist your urge for as much elevation gain as you can find. Short and easy for your first couple of hikes of the season should satisfy your urge to launch your fall hiking campaign.

With that in mind, here are five hikes we recommend for getting back in the hiking groove.

1. Horton Grove Nature Preserve

Location: Bahama

Trail: Holman/Hart/Justice/Latta loop

Distance: 3 miles

Some of the most hiker-friendly trails around are courtesy of your local land trust. They want you to think less about how tired you are and of twisting your ankle on rocky trail, and more about the stunning landscape they work to preserve. Such is the case at the Triangle Land Conservancy’s Horton Grove Nature Preserve.

Expertly designed trails take you through an emerging piedmont prairie (a type of grassland that once thrived in the Southeast), through a bottomland forest, a beech tree bluff and classic piedmont hardwood forest. You’ll find all this on a loop out of the main trailhead starting on the Holloman Loop trail, picking up the Hart Trail followed by the outer Justice Loop and returning via the Latta Trail.

More info here.

Hikers make their way down a trail in the forest

2. Pilot Mountain State Park, Bean Shoals Access

Location: Pinnacle

Trail: Horne Creek Trail

Distance: 3 miles

Pilot Mountain proper is notorious for its fall crowds. It’s not uncommon on a fall weekend to wait a half hour or more for a parking spot to open in Pilot’s mountaintop lot. Not the case at the Bean Shoals Access along the Yadkin River, where the Horne Creek Trail makes a mellow meander along its namesake creek and along the larger Yadkin River.

While you won’t get the mountaintop views that you do from atop Pilot Mountain, you will explore some surprisingly rolling Piedmont terrain, including hardwood forests that betray early signs of fall color. The trail is 2.5 miles; return to your car via a half-mile-long dirt road.

More info here.

3. Knight Brown Nature Preserve

Location: Stokesdale

Distance: 2.7 miles

Dropping into the valley formed by Belews Creek is like descending into an idyllic land conceived by Jonathan Swift. Take the Beachwood Bottomland Loop downhill through a mature beech forest to Belews Creek, which cuts its way through a valley pocked with boulders. Before you reach the creek, after a decent rain you’ll see a spindly but sprightly waterfall across the way.

There’s a gradual ridge climb up the Creekside Loop, a shorter, steeper climb up the Leatherwood Loop, and a goodly amount of time spent along Belews Creek. The wooded rim of the valley is especially enchanting in the late afternoon light.

More info here.

Scenic shot of forest from trail

4. Crowders Mountain State Park, Boulders Access

Location: Kings Mountain

Distance: 3 miles

Crowders Mountain gets loved to death by folks in the Charlotte area, and for good reason: it’s got mountaintop views and hiking through rocky pine woods reminiscent of mountain terrain farther west.

You don’t get those views starting from the park’s Boulders Access just north of the South Carolina line, but you don’t get the crowds, either. From the Boulders, popular with climbers, you can pick up the Ridgeline Trail and head south into South Carolina or north toward the main portion of the park. Heading north offers slightly more challenging terrain, but still nothing too taxing for the early season. Head south and the trail magically flattens upon entering South Carolina.

Keep in mind this is an out-and-back hike, the beauty of which is that you can determine how far you want to hike — keeping in mind the return portion of your outing.

More info here.

5. Doughton Park, The Bluffs Restaurant

Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 242

Trail: Bluff Mountain

Distance: 3 miles

We know, you’re itching for a mountain hike. And why not, with the spectacular Southern Appalachians at our disposal? One of the most sensible — and sensational — ways to experience the mountains is on the Bluff Mountain Trail through Doughton Park.

Bluff Mountain Trail roughly runs the length of the park — 7.5 miles — along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s OK to cherry pick the trail’s best by parking at The Bluffs Restaurant (open seasonally) and heading first out to Wildcat Rocks (just past the old lodge), where an overlook offers a keen appreciation of the Blue Ridge Escarpment’s impressive drop. Then, take the Bluffs Trail south through open meadows occasionally dotted with rock outcrops and a sturdy tree or two. Views abound, especially of the piedmont below.

More info here.

Group of hikers crossing an open meadow with the NC mountains on the horizon

Ease into fall

For advice on how to ease into the fall hiking season, check out “10 Tips for Fall Hiking,” at