2023 was "The Year of the Trail" in North Carolina, and the year gave us a way to expand our love of the great outdoors while keeping the momentum going for the hiking, cycling, camping, and outdoor communities! 2023 was celebrated through the expansion of existing trail networks in our community, the grand re-opening of the Peavine Trail, and an amazing $2.5 million dollar grant to further expand trails in our community. 2024 is just as important for enjoying our Blue Ridge outdoor spaces and trails, and what better way to do that than taking to the trails and starting the New Year with a First Day Hike?
What is a First Day Hike?
According to the American Hiking Society, "First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors. On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be organized in all 50 states. Kids and adults all across America will be participating in First Day Hikes, getting their hearts pumping and enjoying the beauty of a state park. Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country."
To kick-off 2024, we encourage you to take part in #FirstDayHike adventures throughout our county, or step out on your own and enjoy the new Gateway Trail Systems in Old Fort, NC!
Our friends at McDowell Trails Association are celebrating the start of 2024 with a hike at McDowell County's newest campground, Black Bear Campground and Park. This expansive campground and park area offers a range of recreational opportunities, including a day-use area, campground, access to Lake James and the Fonta Flora Trail. Meet McDowell Trails Association members at the picnic pavilion parking area at 1:30pm for a 2-3 mile moderate hike. Details about the hike can be found on their Facebook Page.
Put your best foot forward in 2024 at Lake James State Park during their first guided hike of the year. Join Ranger Hughes for a nature walk along the Fox Den Loop Trail. This hike is a moderate 2.25 miles. Meet at the Catawba River Access office breezeway at 1pm. The guided hike is a part of North Carolina State Parks "First Day Hikes" initiative, in cooperation with America's State Parks. Learn more about First Day Hikes by visiting their websiteHERE.
Chimney Rock State Park is also participating in First Hike Day! This free hike is the only time during the year that the general public can walk or bike on the 3-mile park road. Go at your own pace for this moderate hike and start the New Year on the right foot. Meet at the park gate by 8 am on January 1st, no advance registration required (If you are not participating in the First Day Hike, the park will open to general vehicle traffic at 10 am).
Additionally, There are several new miles of recently opened trails in the Old Fort Gateway Trail System that welcome horseback riders, mountain bikers and hikers! Imagine being one of the first visitors to explore these gorgeous treks through the Pisgah National Forest!
The first 4 miles of the newly opened trails are designed to be accessible and easy for hikers and mountain bikers of all ages and abilities. Recently, a new one-mile, hike-only trail that is accessible for those with disabilities opened. The Meadow Loops Trail is adjacent to the new Old Fort Gateway Trailhead, and the hiking and wheelchair accessible trail provides a true beginner-friendly experience along a wide-gravel surface along Curtis Creek.
“The Meadows Loop allows visitors to access Curtis Creek for fishing and swimming, traverse through a wetland on a series of boardwalks, and walk alongside a meadow for bird watching and wildlife viewing,” said Lisa Jennings, recreation manager for the U.S. Forest Service Grandfather Ranger District. “We are excited to provide such a unique and accessible experience on the Pisgah National Forest.”
The Gateway Trails trail head is accessed about 1.5 miles down Curtis Road (State Road 1227) and offers picnic tables, restrooms, and plenty of parking. It also allows easy-access trout fishing at Curtis Creek.
Lastly, our partners at Outdoor NC and Leave No Trace invite you to Make It Your Nature and become a steward of North Carolina’s unique outdoor spaces by joining the Outdoor NC movement. Together we can protect the places we love for generations to come. Visit their website and "Pledge to Make It Your Nature" by becoming a steward of outdoor spaces, while entering their awesome sweepstakes contest. Visit this LINK to learn more and JOIN THE MOVEMENT.