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NC State Parks Annual Tradition of Ranger-Led ‘First Day Hikes’ Continues on New Year’s Day in High Country

By Jesse Wood

Jan. 1, 2013. All four High Country State Parks are participating in the annual “First Day Hikes,” a national effort by America’s State Parks. Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, Grandfather Mountain State Park, New River State Park and Elk Knob State Park all feature a hike on New Year’s Day.

Last year, 28 N.C. State Parks participated and more have already signed on to participate this year, according to Sharon Becker, district interpretation and education specialist for N.C. State Parks. 

“We’ve definitely made a big push, and we’re hoping for all the state parks to participate,” Becker said. “We want to let people know the parks are open almost every day of the year and it’s a great way to start off the new year and get off into nature and take a hike with your family.” 

For more information, scroll below for hike times and information on each hike taking place at the beginning of the year in the High Country.


Mt. Jefferson Natural Area – Photo Courtesy of N.C. State Parks by Joseph Shimmel

Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area

Location: Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area
Time of the Event: 2:00 p.m.
Where to Meet: Picnic Area near Rhododendron Trail
Degree of Difficulty: Strenuous
Minimum Age for Kids: None
Restrictions: Dogs must be on a leash.
Length of the Trail: 1.1 miles
Things to Bring: Winter coat, hat, gloves, and boots
Cancellation Information: (336) 246-9653

Additional Information: Meet the park ranger for a New Years Day hike into an Appalachian mountain forest wonderland. We will explore the natural beauty of winter on Mt. Jefferson as we make our way to the dramatic vistas surrounding Luther Rock. The Rhododendron Trail follows a ridge southeast along the crest of the mountain from the summit to Luther Rock, an outcrop of metamorphosed amphibolite.

This black volcanic rock is what gives Mount Jefferson its dark appearance. Here, hikers may look back along the horseshoe-shaped ridge to the summit and tower. Beyond is a spectacular view of neighboring valleys and peaks. On clear days, the New River is visible to the east. Bluffs extend along the ridge below the trail where outcrops of amphibolite are visible in winter.


An aerial view of New River State Park. Photo Courtesy of N.C. State Parks

New River State Park

Location of the Event: New River State Park
Time of the Event: 10:00 a.m.
Where to Meet: N.C. 221 Visitor Center
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate
Minimum Age for Kids: None
Restrictions: None
Length of the Trail: 1.5 miles
Things to Bring: Sturdy shoes, water bottle
Cancellation Information: 336-982-2587

Additional Information: Start the New Year with some fresh air! Join one of many “first hikes” at a beautiful North Carolina State Park. Join a park ranger for an informal hike on the Hickory Trail. We will begin at the park’s Visitor Center and hike 1.5 miles to the river and back.


View of Grandfather Mountain near Calloway Peak. Photo by Randy Johnson

Grandfather Mountain State Park

Location of the Event: Grandfather Mountain State Park
Time of the Event: 10 a.m.
Where to Meet: Profile Trail Parking Area
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate
Minimum Age for Kids: None
Restrictions: No dogs, be prepared for winter weather conditions
Length of the Trail: 2 miles
Things to Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars and field guides if you have them, be prepared for winter conditions by wearing layers and waterproof hiking boots
Cancellation Information: 828-963-9522

Additional Information: Start the year off right with a sensory hike along the first mile of the Profile Trail. Participants will learn to enjoy using their full range of senses to experience Grandfather Mountain State Park. Slow down and experience the journey not just the destination.


Elk Knob State Park Supt. Larry Trivette stands at the entrance of the park. Photo by Jesse Wood

Elk Knob State Park

Location of the Event: Elk Knob State Park
Time of the Event: 2:00 p.m.
Where to Meet: Summit Trail Head Parking Lot
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate
Minimum Age for Kids: 6 yrs old and must be accompanied by an adult
Restrictions: Dogs must be on a leash, no longer than 6 ft. and under the owner’s control at all times.
Length of the Trail: 1.9 miles
Things to Bring: Dress in layers to plan for weather changes. Wear sturdy hiking boots and bring spikes (in case of frozen precipitation). Bring a water bottle, hat and gloves. Don’t forget a camera, because the views from the summit are wonderful!
Cancellation Information: 828-297-7261

Additional Information: Visitors can hike up the summit trail accompanied by a ranger to an elevation of 5,520 feet to see panoramic views of the valleys below. Upon reaching the summit, there are Northern and Southern display panels that name the visible mountains, their elevations and their distances.

Some of the best views are during the winter months after it snows and the sky is clear of dust and haze. On days like this, a view of over 60 miles may be enjoyed from the summit.

For more information, click to www.americasstateparks.org/first-day-hikes