First Day Hikes Kick-Off New Year Despite Freezing Temps

In partnership with the National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD), State Parks across America offered First Day Hikes on Jan. 1. Here in North Carolina, we continued a tradition started 40 years ago at Eno River State Park. New Year’s Day ushered in the coldest temperatures seen in decades in most areas of the state. Rangers and visitors alike bundled up and met in our parks for hikes to kick off the new year.

Over 1,350 participants joined us to collectively hike 2,953 miles. While a couple of hikes were cancelled due to road closures, most bundled up and marched forth into temperatures as low as 9 degrees. Here are some fun facts from this year’s First Day hikes:

  • For the first time ever, Hanging Rock had to break ice on the lake for the annual Polar Plunge
  • At Goose Creek, hikers ranged in age from 4 to 82 years old
  • Many parks reported an abundance of canine visitors on their first day hikes
  • A llama (!!!!) joined the hike at Pilot Mountain, where the 11 degrees and 10-mile per hour winds were likely reminiscent of its native lands at high elevations
  • 111 participated in the 3rd Annual First Day 5K at Haw River State Park
  • Eno River hosted the most hikers with 354 hikers along for two hikes
  • Crowders Mountain led the longest hike at 5 miles

Thanks to all who joined us for our First Day Hikes, and to all of our Rangers and Staff who supported these events across the state.

Enjoy these photos from First Day Hikes 2018!

Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area- small but mighty group!
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area Bear Tracks
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area– It’s a BEAR!
Goose Creek State Park
Goose Creek State Park
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area
Lake Norman State Park
Lake Norman State Park
Goose Creek State Park
Goose Creek State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park

Easing in to Winter Hiking at Haw River State Park

By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation

Haw River GBH Trail 2

I chose Haw River State Park to launch a season of winter hikes. Though I enjoy cold weather and especially snow, I haven’t done much winter hiking in the past. This year, my first winter with NC State Parks, I am determined to make the most of the quiet trails as I continue to explore our parks. I’m sure that some of my upcoming winter hikes will be just lovely while others will be brutal and test my resolve. I’ll need new gear, a strong dose of willpower, and a lot of hot chocolate.

So far, I’ve got two pieces of gear to recommend (other than the obvious hat, gloves, scarf): a smartphone-friendly pair of gloves and good base layer. I’ve gotten two different thicknesses of base layers to meet my needs depending on what pants I hike in that day and how cold and windy the hike could be. Always check the weather in your hike area regularly as you’re planning and be ready to adjust your plans to make the best of your time.

One of the best things about Haw River State Park is its accessibility to the massive population of the Triangle, Charlotte, and Triad areas. It’s not so close to urban centers that it often gets overcrowded, but it is accessible, wonderfully wild, and one-of-a-kind.

Haw River Map

Haw River State Park was authorized by the N.C. General Assembly in 2003, solidifying the protection of the Haw River headwaters– an area in Guilford and Rockingham counties that was among 12 sites in North Carolina identified as a potential state park in the New Parks for a New Century initiative. The park has grown to 1,425 acres over the past 15 years with the help of partners and private donors. As part of interim development, it offers the traditional amenities of hiking and picnicking at our Iron Ore Belt Access day-use area. Additional facilities are planned, with this location noted as a key destination on the state’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Iron Ore Belt Access
Haw River State Park Iron Ore Belt Access

Great Blue Heron Loop is accessed at the new Iron Ore Belt entrance and ushers you on for 3.2 miles through hardwood forests and Haw River wetlands. It rolls through changes in elevation along a dry path with few rocks and roots, allowing for a peaceful, meditative hike. The loop is the perfect length for a solid hike even if you have an otherwise busy day.

Great Blue Heron Loop Trail

Part of the joy of winter hikes is the quiet of the trail this time of year. It’s a time to discover the landscape in a different state. While much of the ecosystem lays dormant, new dynamics are at play: different fauna have moved down from the north for warmer weather or are stopping over on their way further south; trees offer less shelter for woodland critters that typically live in their branches; and the dormancy of insects affects the availability of food for the usual warm season food chain. Due to these changes, winter hikes bring you to the threshold of a different place—even in your favorite, most familiar park—and allow you to experience it anew.

I’ve always loved cedar trees. To be honest and a bit morbid, I also love things made OUT of cedar trees, but I’ll focus on the trees here. Something about their shape and vibrant color seems almost surreal in a winter landscape. One of my favorite things about Haw River State Park was seeing so many beautiful cedars.

Check out this beefcake of a Cedar!
Make sure you make your way out to Haw River State Park this winter to make the most of this beautiful ecosystem. Opportunities for birding, hiking, and photography abound on the quiet trails this season.
Li’l baby cedars along the Great Blue Heron Loop Trail.


Katie Hall is the new-ish Public Information Officer for North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the State Parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more. Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach.

Personal park count (as of 12/20/17): 30

Still on tap: Carvers Creek, Crowders Mountain, Goose Creek, Lake Norman, Mayo River, Merchants Millpond, Mount Mitchell, New River, Pettigrew, South Mountains, Weymouth Woods.  


Parks and Recreation Authority Approves Over $11 million for State Park Land Acquisition, Capital Improvements

North Carolina’s Parks and Recreation Authority has approved over $11 million in Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) monies for land acquisition and capital improvement projects for the next fiscal year. The Authority meeting, held Nov. 17 at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, was led by Authority Chairman Neal Lewis and attended by a quorum of Authority members. The last Authority meeting to vote on funding for state parks was held last May at Carolina Beach State Park.

The land acquisition projects include new lands at Eno River, Grandfather Mountain, Hanging Rock, Lake James, Morrow Mountain, Elk Knob, Stone Mountain, South Mountains, Jockey’s Ridge, and Pettigrew state parks and Warwick Mill Bay, Salmon Creek, and Bushy Lake state natural areas.

Funds approved for capital improvement projects will be used for design of a pedestrian bridge at Eno River State Park, to meet shortfalls in under-funded Connect NC Bond projects, system-wide exhibit and trail maintenance, major maintenance projects, and demolition needs.

Division of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Murphy presented updates to the Authority about important events that occurred throughout the summer and early fall as well as important happenings for the Division in the coming year.




Fall-ing for Singletary Lake State Park

SILA Tree Fall
Photo by L. Garner

The first thing you need to know about Singletary Lake is that it is not lonely at all. White, Bay Tree, Jones, and Salters lakes, as well as Big Colly, Tatum Millpond, and Bloody Branch bays all lie within a 45-minute drive of one another. The cluster of lakes sit like a shimmering blue splatter across the coastal plain, forming nearly perfect blue ovals that add to the mystery of the formation of these natural lakes. Carolina Bays and their smaller friends clearly share some history.

Carolina Bays are named for the sweet bay, loblolly bay and red bay trees found growing around their banks. Of the 500,000 bays estimated to exist, most are small and few are greater than 500 feet in diameter. Singletary Lake, however, is nearly 4,000 feet in diameter.

Singletary Lake has a shoreline of almost four miles and, at 11.8 feet deep, is the deepest of the Bladen County bay lakes. Like other bay lakes, Singletary is not fed by streams or springs, so its water supply depends upon rainfall and runoff from the surrounding land.

Bay lakes disappear over time when left to their own devices. Trees and shrubs along lake perimeters, like Singletary Lake’s beautiful red bay, loblolly bay, pond pine and Atlantic white cedar trees, reduce wave and current action, causing sediments to build up and allowing for new plant growth. Peat is produced gradually from dead organic matter along the shoreline, and eventually trees take root. Slowly, the bay forest grows into the lake.

This park is special, because you have to have an appointment. That would be pretty inconvenient at most parks, but most people don’t just “happen upon” Singletary Lake State Park. You have to plan to visit, and you have to know where you’re going. This park is often reserved for camping, environmental education, and retreat groups, so you must schedule your visit with the park office.

Singletary Lake State Park was the first of my cool-season hikes, and as soon as I stepped out into the autumn air I knew this was a great time to visit. I hiked through the park on an overcast day with a breeze, cool enough for long sleeves and no bitey bugs. The leaves, brightly colored and reflecting off of the water, were ready to fall. I was lucky enough to catch these beautiful colors– I expected I’d be too late.

Photo by H. McDunnough

Not many of us plan to hike in our coastal parks in the off-season. The summer makes us flock to the water, and the rest of the year we usually leave our coastal communities to recover from the summer swell without us. But here’s a little secret: our coastal parks are peaceful and incredibly beautiful this time of year. Biting insects and snakes are hiding, trees are at their most brilliant, the trail is padded with freshly fallen leaves, and a cool breeze blows to refresh you.

Just one trail winds through the park and adjacent to the lake– the CCC Loop Trail. I hiked a bunch of park trails with major elevation changes this year, so I noted the markedly different experience of flat trails at Singletary Lake State Park. This is the kind of easy hike that allows you to really “zone out.” Your mind can wander, you can meditate, disassociate, deescalate, reinvigorate–whatever it is that you do.

The trees, shrubs, ferns, and moss lining the sandy trails are in a class all their their own; there is just no parallel to this experience. When you come back to reality, you’ll still be on the trail, somewhere in the park.

Other than the park’s autumn beauty and easy trail, one of the best things about this hike was the crisp air. It invigorates you, it opens your eyes, and it connects you to the land. The only sound is a woodpecker and the crunch of leaves underfoot. A deep breath burns your nostrils with cold, splashes deep into your lungs.. and you feel as if you could walk for days.

Make sure you make it out to Singletary Lake State Park before all the leaves drop- you’ll be glad you did.

See you in our parks!

SILA Boardwalk
Photo by J. Davidson


Katie Hall is the new-ish Public Information Officer for North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the State Parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more. Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach.





What is special about Singletary Lake State Park?

Bring your group to experience a hidden gem within North Carolina State Parks. We do not boast of the highest peaks, largest lakes or the most miles of hiking trails but you will enjoy amazing sunsets, solitude, and memories that will last a lifetime. A unique camping opportunity awaits for the organized group that desires to unplug and unwind in a mysterious Carolina bay environment.


Camp Ipecac, which accommodates up to 92 persons, was named for the Carolina ipecac herb that readily grows in this sandy environment. The camp layout is spacious and includes private cabins, a sizable mess hall with commercial kitchen and a modern bathhouse. The smaller, but ever so popular, Camp Loblolly Bay accommodates up to 48 persons. This Camp was named after the prevalent evergreen tree that produces white blooms in the summer. Camp Loblolly is fully accessible and contains group cabins, a mess hall with commercial kitchen and a modern bathhouse. Park occupants have been known to spend many hours in the camp as each camp also includes a horseshoe pit, volleyball court, basketball court, and fire pit.


Venturing beyond the camp borders, your group can experience the Carolina bay ecosystem by land or by water. A 1-mile hiking trail will guide you through a forest of bay shrubs, cedar, cypress, gum and alongside the longleaf pine ecosystem. The trail also features spectacular views of the lake and signs that interpret formation theories of Carolina bays. Many hypotheses have been proposed and include theories of underground springs, meteorite impacts, and sinkholes. As of yet, no single explanation has been universally accepted creating the mystery of these oval-shaped depressions. A 500-foot pier which extends into the shallow, mysterious, tea-colored waters is the perfect place for a sunset. Swimming, fishing and sunning are also among favorite pastimes described by visitors. Twelve canoes, located just at the water’s edge, are available to registered campers.


If you are looking for an exclusive, extraordinary place to get a little rest and relaxation, Singletary Lake State Park just may be what you’ve been searching for.

Written by Amy Bernhardt, park ranger at Singletary Lake State Park.

More to Love at Morrow Mountain

By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

Morrow Mountain Sunset

Nestled between Charlotte and the Sandhills of North Carolina, Morrow Mountain State Park was established as North Carolina’s third state park in 1935. Uwharrie National Forest, separated from Morrow Mountain State Park by the Yadkin/Peedee River, was designated a U.S. National Forest by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Many people wonder why the Uwharries are so small and are surprised to learn that they are one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. These ancient mountains have more archaeological sites per acre than any other forest in the Southeast! They are SO old, in fact, that dinosaurs may have roamed there amongst what were once 20,000-foot summits. Erosion, like that which wore the Appalachians down from heights comparable to the Rocky Mountains, also took their toll on the Uwharries, which now top out at 1,100 feet.


Prior to becoming a national forest, the area was used for mining, farming, and timber. Much of Morrow Mountain State Park’s facilities display beautiful stone that was mined from the mountain itself years ago. That adds incredible charm to the park– from the stone walls to the stone on the visitors center and cabins, this natural element ties together different areas of the park and gives it an unmistakable, memorable character.

Historic homestead in the park

Morrow Mountain State Park has fantastic amenities. My favorites are the six rustic family vacation cabins offer the opportunity to get away from it all while still enjoying some modern comforts. Deep in a wooded area of the park, each cabin has a bathroom, living room, fireplace, kitchen with dining space and two bedrooms that can accommodate up to six people. If you’re looking to get away from too much technology and the daily grind but camping is a bit too “rustic” for you, these cabins are the perfect compromise. Front porch rockers and traditional wood fireplaces make these cabins a great getaway for all seasons.

Cozy wood-burning fireplace at one of six park cabins
One of several cabins at Morrow Mountain State Park

An expansive boathouse on Lake Tillery offers state-of-the art canoes and kayaks for rent to paddle and experience the beautiful park from the water. For hikers, several trails wind throughout the park ranging from a half mile to over four miles and from easy to strenuous. This park looks and feels like one of our western parks, but offers a more central location. Morrow Mountain reminds me of Raven Rock State Park in that way.

Boathouse on Lake Tillery
Banks of the Pee Dee River in the park

Morrow Mountain State Park is also a great place for group camping, reunions, gatherings or retreats. In addition to the park’s large pool and pool house, picnic shelters and a community building that can hold up to 110 guests are available to reserve.

If you’re looking for a day of family fun, a quiet, rocky hike, a picnic with a view, or some outdoor exercise right in the Piedmont, Morrow Mountain State Park has everything you could hope for. This is a great option for folks who live in the coastal plain and don’t want to drive all the way to the mountains, or residents of the Piedmont who want a nearby getaway. The leaves are stunning today and in the coming weeks, so it’s the perfect time for a visit.

See you in our Parks!


Katie Hall is the new-ish Public Information Officer for North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.  A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the State Parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more.  Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach.

Lake James State Park Celebrates 30 Naturally Wonderful Years

By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

Lake James State Park


Thirty years ago, McDowell and Burke counties joined together to have a state park created on Lake James. In a team effort between both chambers of commerce and county commissions, the counties lobbied their state representatives for funding for a park. The park was dedicated in 1987. The original Catawba River Area that features Fox Den Loop, walk-in tent camping sites and Sandy Cliff Overlook is now complemented by the larger Paddy’s Creek area, which hosts the Long Arm Peninsula with boat-in camping, drive-in tent camping area, a large day-use area, beach and bathhouse, and several trails.

On Oct. 5, the community came together to celebrate three decades of the park. Elected and appointed local, state and federal government officials attended alongside volunteers, staff, supporters, and business leaders. Park Superintendent Nora Coffey hosted tours of both the Catawba and Paddy’s Creek sides of the property.

Friends of Lake James State Park President Eric Jenkins (L) and Vice President Bob Hunter (R)

Nearly 50 guests gathered at Paddy’s Creek picnic area for the bar-b-que lunch and a program from state and local officials and Friends of Lake James State Park. Bob Hunter, vice president of Friends of Lake James State Park, spoke about the outstanding partnership between Burke and McDowell Counties that made the park possible. Hunter, who served in the legislature at the time, was instrumental in passing the authorizing legislation as well as the State Parks Act during the 1987 session. Eric Jenkins, president of Friends of Lake James State Park, spoke about the important Paddy’s Creek acquisition in 2004, which added nearly 3,000 acres to Lake James State Park. That acquisition expanded the park to six times its former size and allowed the conservation of more than 30 miles of shoreline on the 6,500-acre lake in Burke and McDowell counties.

State Parks Director Mike Murphy talked about the State Parks Act, established the same year as the authorization of Lake James State Park, and the funding allotted to the new park upon its authorization that allowed it to be operational far faster than its predecessors in the system. He also thanked everyone who has supported the park through the years, many of whom were in attendance. “Lake James State Park is a special place. When I walk in here, I feel like I am home. So many local community citizens came together to establish this incredible state park, and we are all very thankful for their efforts,” he said.

Lake James 30th event_ Murphy_edited
North Carolina State Parks Director Mike Murphy

Park Superintendent Nora Coffey looked ahead to plans for the future of the park. A new visitor center for welcoming and educating visitors and the much anticipated Cove Bridge are on the horizon. Connecting Paddy’s Creek and Long Arm Peninsulas, the 238-foot Cove Bridge will provide continuity between the peninsulas for recreation and emergency response. It will be a centerpiece for the lovely Fonta Flora State Trail, which loops through the park and is 16 miles long thus far. A new 6,500 square foot visitor center will serve as the main park office and will host an exhibit hall, a classroom, restrooms, retail space, and an outdoor amphitheater for large groups. A new parking area will support the visitor’s center and access to the mountain bike trails and the Fonta Flora State Trail. The Over Mountain Victory National Historic Trail is routed adjacent to the park, providing even more recreational opportunities nearby.

LAJA Coffey and attendees _ edited
Superintendent Nora Coffey speaks to 30th anniversary visitors
LAJA 30 yrs Nora Coffey_edited
Lake James State Park Superintendent Nora Coffey


About Lake James State Park


One of Lake James State Park’s many beautiful campsites on the lake

About Lake James State Park

Lake James State Park rests on the edge of the expansive Pisgah National Forest and weaves along peninsulas on beautiful Lake James. The park stretches through both Burke and McDowell Counties with headquarters in Nebo, N.C. It hosts a thriving ecosystem with foxes, rabbit, muskrat, mink, pileated woodpeckers, hawks, owls, salamanders, and newts, and so much more.

This park sets itself apart with its mountain scenery and stunning clear waters. Celebrated flora of the North Carolina Mountains including pink lady slipper, Jack-in-the-pulpit, passion flower, Indian pipe and cardinal flower grace the banks of the park. Mountain laurel, rhododendron and flame azalea are also abundant in the hilly terrain. Beautiful lakeside campsites abound to enjoy all the park has to offer.

Make sure you make it out to Lake James State Park in the next couple of weeks to catch the leaves changing. We’ll see you there!