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Happy Trails to You


Adrenalin-pumping action. Biking trails cover the Carolinas, and if you’re into extreme fitness, take on this wild ride at Clayton Legend Park, in Johnson Country, NC.  Don’t forget your helmet.

Photo: Clayton Legend Park • Johnston County Visitors Bureau •

Heading down the path is an adventure in itself, where the journey is often the destination.  It’s not the end of the road you’re seeking; it’s everything that comes along the way, including Carolina-beautiful scenery, wildlife, unexpected twists and turns and views that will never be seen from your car.

They intrigue us and beguile us toward their unknown destinations.  

Trails lead off toward who-knows-where, and that’s a good thing.

It’s not news that the Carolinas have the geography to make lovers of water, mountains, rolling hills, marshlands and ocean-front equally happy.  

No surprises there.  Couple that with a climate that begs for outdoors activities just about year round and you have the perfect formula for hitting that oh-so-lovely trail.


Get the bird’s eye view. Bodie Island Lighthouse is one of 16 in the Carolinas.  Find them all and visit those you can.  It’s a worthy endeavor.

Photo: Bodie Island LIghthouse • Leslie Cothren

But where to begin?  We’ve got walking, hiking and biking pathways, paddling blueways and equestrian trails, off-the-road attractions and all sorts of niche markets (birding trails, barbecue trails, quilt trails, literary trails, etc., and you get the picture).    Here are the big ambitious trails that demand our attention and appreciation with much more information online.  And to keep things up close and personal, we asked a few of our favorite experts to share their favorite trails and why.  The entire team has been inspired.  You will be, too.  Let’s get moving.

>> The Appalachian Trail.  This is the Granddaddy of them all and 88 miles of this Maine-to-Georgia beauty can be found in North Carolina. Both weekend hikers and serious climbers enjoy the scenery found along the way.  Map out a trip through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, across peaks and valleys, and even on the main street of the quaint town of Hot Springs.  Folks make a lifetime goal of hiking this trail and North Carolina has some prime hiking territory.

>> The Palmetto Trail.   At more than 425 miles of hiking and bicycling paths beside lakes, across mountains, through forests and into urban areas, this is South Carolina’s largest such project, running from the mountains to the sea.  It is one of only 16 cross-state trails in the U.S. and two-thirds of it is open and ready for exploring, in a series of passages.  It includes paved bikeways and primitive pathways, greenways, and rail-to-trail conversions.  There are passages that have been seen by only a few people, and others traversed daily.  History is seen along these adventures, as is the abundant wildlife that calls Carolina home.   Special groups include Senior Explorers and Junior Trailblazers.  For the rest of us, there are clubs for afternoon or weekend treks and, best of all, elite fitness levels are not required.


Check ‘em off the list. Visit Umstead State park, near Raleigh, and explore one of the many beautiful  treasures protected for all to enjoy.  What a way to get your exercise!

Photo: Umstead Park • Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau - Ted Richardson •

>> The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is North Carolina’s premier hiking trail. It stretches 1,000 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks and passes by many beautiful places along the way. Take a short family walk on a section near your home. Or, plan a weekend backpacking trip. Perhaps you may decide your bucket list includes walking all 1,000 miles – over time, of course.  

>> The Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail is an unbroken saltwater trail along 800 miles of the Southeastern coastline that’s been mapped out for those who like canoeing, kayaking and other paddle sports.

The Trail maps routes that hug the coastal waters of Virginia, NC, SC and Georgia, as well as access points and places where paddlers can find food, supplies, lodging or camping between the Chesapeake Bay and Saint Mary's, GA (just above the Florida state line). The trail also connects with other paddling trails to the north and south, including the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail; the southern terminus connects with the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.

The Trail provides the information on one interactive website and is a joint project of state, federal and local governments that consulted with private groups and paddling enthusiasts in mapping the routes.


Building memories. It’s a pleasure to take the family on a discovery outing at Poinsett Bridge heritage Preserve.  Nature and humans, working together.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Photo: Poinsett Bridge and 120-acre Heritage Preserve •

>> Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a member-supported nonprofit organization whose mission is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and build healthier places for healthier people. Since it opened in 1986, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has helped make possible more than 21,000 miles of rail-trails across the country, and secured America’s dis-used rail corridors for possible future reactivation.  In North and South Carolina, there are currently 100 of these trails described on the website.

>> Other trail organizations include (SC) Bike the Neck, Waccamaw Neck, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Natureland Trust, Palmetto Cycling Coalition, SC Horsemen’s Council, Foothills Trail Conference, SC Off-Road Enthusiasts, Low Country Paddlers, (NC) Visit NC, NC Horse Council, Trails of NC, NC Paddletrails, and so many more.


Feeling mighty small. At Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, you’ll find trees older than this country, as well as awe-inspiring trails that take you through forests primeval.  Lovely.

Photo: Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest • Graham County, NC •

Real People – Real Passions

What trails are favorites of runners, hikers, bikers, paddlers and other outdoor enthusiasts?

>> Katie McKinney, Major Gifts Officer, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy:  “I love to run along the West Ashley Greenway because it’s nice and shaded, and there are always blue herons and box turtles to be seen there.  It’s a great way to avoid the Charleston traffic, and the trail runs along an old rail-bed and beside a creek.  I’m a runner, but I always see folks walking, families with children in strollers, dogs and their owners out for a walk, and even the occasional person rollerblading.  It feels more like an outdoors adventure than exercising, and I look forward to that run every time I’m in Charleston.”

Note: The West Ashley Greenway is a 10.5-mile hiking and bike trail located in West Ashley, just outside of Charleston, SC.  The Greenway stretches from the South Windermere Shopping Center on Folly Road to Johns Island. Most of the route follows Highway 17.  It can be used from dawn to dusk and parking is available at either terminus.


Rewards await. Go kayaking along the Yadkin River, in Surry County, NC and you’ll find one beautiful river on which to play.  Afterwards, give yourself a pat on the back and find a glass of goodness at one of the many vineyards found in the area.  Enjoy!

Photo: Yadkin River • Very Surry –

>> Julie Judkins, Community Program Manager, Appalachian Trail Conservancy:  “If you're hiking the Appalachian Trail through North Carolina, you'll find yourself in deep, remote wilderness but also along some of the highest peaks along the Trail.  There is a diversity of canopy-covered Trail, firetowers, open, grassy balds and even the Appalachian Trail Community™ of Hot Springs that the Trail runs right through; they’re spots not to miss. A favorite hike for our family is Max Patch, a short loop hike that all ages can tackle.  Bring a kite and a picnic for hours of endless fun!”

>> Peggy Greaves, Retired Nurse Educator: “My friends and I discovered the Palmetto Trail almost three years ago.  We began walking with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation’s outings and soon discovered we could do this on our own.  Because we had a map from the PCF, we did and we have been walking ever since.  There are now 18-20 Girl Walkers and Friends who walk with us.  We plan a new adventure every month.   On the trail we bring a packed lunch and “eat out” somewhere along the scenic trail.  Sometimes people ask us what we do on our walks and I tell them ‘we walk and talk’ and enjoy the great South Carolina outdoors.


A civilized excursion. Bike along the Reedy River Complex, in Greenville, SC, and you’ll enjoy your ride without ever leaving town.  When you’ve just got time for a quick one head this way.

Photo: Biking along the RiverPlace complex, downtown Greenville, SC •

“There are many favorites of mine on the Palmetto Trail.  1) Walking across the railroad trestles of the Peak to Prosperity Passage, thinking about the blue sky above, the forest and river below and the beauty everywhere. 2) Walking the shoreline of Lake Marion and watching the land turn from swamp to forest and listening to stories told by friends.

3) Looking out over the beautiful Intracoastal Waterway on the Awendaw Passage and wondering about the vegetation there and the lives of Native Americans who lived there long before the trail was opened for us all to enjoy.  

“Together we have done other passages, all of which have stories of their own to tell.”

>> Jeff Brewer, Mountains-to-Sea Trail: “After a busy day of working in the Raleigh-Durham area I enjoy a good short hike on the MST at Falls Lake.  In just a short drive I can be in the woods with a great view of the lake as I hike.  This 60-mile section of the MST is a natural surface hiking trail that is enjoyed by hikers, trail runners and fishermen.  We are very lucky to have such a place to find solitude in this metropolitan area we call the Triangle.  Hats off to the trail volunteers that made this section of trail at Falls Lake.”

Indeed, all of these trails have stories to share and there are so many more, from equestrian trails to the new Southeast Coastal Paddling Trail and off-road ATV trails.


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