After the last many weeks of sweets, treats and holiday activities, I'm always looking for a low-key and healthy way to kick off the new year. It's time to get outside, explore nature and actually work up an appetite.
State parks across the region offer First Day Hikes on Jan. 1. Some are short, casual walks through the woods, perfect for families with kids of all ages. Others are more strenuous events that run six miles in length.
The First Day Hikes have become an annual tradition for many families and park goers across the state. In the past three years, North Carolina hikers, rangers and volunteers have logged more than 10,000 miles on state park trails on Jan. 1, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. This week, there will be more than 40 scheduled hikes. In some cases, interpretive programs will be offered.
Seasonal state park facilities will be open on New Year's Day.
Here are some of those 40-plus hikes in our area. The state parks' website has more information about these and other hikes across the state, including maps and exact start locations. Be sure to check before you head out. (Search in the "central" region for hikes in and around the Triangle).
If you go, be sure to dress appropriately with sturdy shoes and bring water.
Carvers Creek State Park, Spring Lake (about an hour from the Triangle). The park will host two hikes starting at 1 p.m., Jan. 1 - a one-mile Hansel and Gretel Hike and a three-mile history hike. Meet in front of the office.
Eno River State Park, Durham. The Eno River Association holds its annual hike at the state park with options for a two-mile or four to five-mile hike. They start at 2 p.m. at Fews Ford Access.
Falls Lake State Recreation Area, Raleigh. The park will host a scavenger hunt and hike on the Rolling View Track Trail. The hunt is designed for kids ages 6 to 12, but all ages are encouraged to participate. Reservations are required for this one and the hunt is limited to the first 25 kids to sign up for each time slot. Hikes are held at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Call 919-676-1027 for details and to sign up.
Haw River State Park, Browns Summit (about an hour north and west of Durham): The park will host two hikes - a 3.2-mile walk at 10 a.m. and a one-mile hike at 1 p.m. Call the park office at 336-342-6163 to sign up for these.
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, Apex: The park will host a hike along the 2.7-mile Blue Loop Trail. This one is a challenging walk with several steep hills, but the prize will be sweeping views of the lake, mature hardwood forests, groves of mountain laurel and other scenes. The hike begins at 9 a.m. and starts at the New Hope Overlook trail head.
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, Henderson (about an hour north of Raleigh): A park ranger will join participants on a stroll through the woods. It starts at 2 p.m. Call the park office at 252-438-7791 to sign up.
Raven Rock State Park, Lillington (about an hour from Raleigh): The park offers a 9 a.m. hike for ages 12 and up. Participants should be able to hike between 2 to 5 miles on trails that are flat, hilly and include steps. (This hike actually is offered every Thursday). If you want to sleep in, the park also will offer a 2.5-mile trek at 1 p.m. Call 910-893-4888 to register.
Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve, Southern Pines (about an hour from the Triangle): The park will offer a 2-mile bird walk about 8 a.m. A second two-mile hike is planned at 2 p.m. Meet at the Visitor Center. No dogs, please. Call 910-692-2167 for more information.
Umstead State Park, Raleigh: The park will offer a 10 a.m. hike at the Crabtree Small Parking Lot on Oak Rock Trail, off Glenwood Avenue. It's designed for all ages, but the trails can be uneven and rocky.
Of course, families can take a hike on their own at the various parks and greenways across the region. And families with kids should definitely check out the growing number of TRACK Trails around here. These shorter hikes - often less than a mile - include self-guided brochures and signs so you know what you're looking at or for. They are designed to encourage kids and families to get outside and explore nature.
You can find TRACK Trails at places such as Lake Benson Park, Falls Lake, Joyner Park and elsewhere. The Kids in Parks website lists the locations across North Carolina.