As the summer sun starts to scorch and the humidity climbs seemingly higher each day, it’s time to plan your escape into the shaded forests, cool waters, and higher altitudes of North Carolina’s less trafficked trails. From the misty mountains to the breezy coast, these 14 trails promise not only a break from the heat but also an unforgettable outdoor experience.
- Moore’s Wall Loop Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
In the Heart of the Piedmont, Hanging Rock State Park’s Moore’s Wall Loop Trail provides a 4.2-mile route through dense foliage, providing ample shade for a summer hike. There are panoramic views at the summit of Moore’s Knob and a lake with a sandy beach and swimming area at the bottom, making it worth the trek!
- Cox Mountain Trail, Eno River State Park
This scenic 4.2-mile trail at Eno River State Park offers hikers a shaded retreat with picturesque river views. After hiking, you can cool off with a swim in the Fews Ford swimming hole.
- Uwharrie Trail, Uwharrie National Forest
The Uwharrie Trail is a hidden gem of the Piedmont region. The trail is a long point-to-point through the Uwharrie Mountains. However, you can hike sections of it as there are several access points along the way. The rolling hills, streams, and hardwood forests can give a welcome respite from the summer heat.
- Lassiter Trail, Merchants Millpond State Park
Merchant’s Millpond State Park offers multiple summer adventures – Paddle the millpond’s calm, shady waterways or hike the nearly 6-mile Lassiter Trail that winds through a fascinating swamp and hardwood forest landscape.
- Swamp Boardwalk and Dismal Swamp Canal
Immerse yourself in the unique ecosystem of the Dismal Swamp State Park. Hike the 6.5-mile Swamp Boardwalk and Palmetto-Peartree Preserve or paddle along the historic Dismal Swamp Canal.
- Huggins Island at Hammocks Beach State Park
Escape the crowds by paddling to Huggins Island at Hammocks Beach State Park. The island offers a 1.5-mile trail that provides both shaded hiking and views of the marsh and ocean.
- Four Mile Creek Greenway in Charlotte
The Four Mile Creek Greenway is a local favorite that offers a well-shaded trail, even in the heat of the summer. The greenway winds through neighborhoods and parks in the southern part of the city, along picturesque Four Mile Creek. This is part of the Carolina Thread Trail, an expansive network of greenways throughout the Charlotte region.
- Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest
Trek along the Art Loeb Trail in the Shining Rock Wilderness. This high-elevation, 10 mile (each way) trail to Cold Mountain offers cooler temperatures and stunning panoramic views due to its elevation.
- Haw River State Park
If you’re in the Piedmont, Haw River State Park is a great place to hide from the heat. You can paddle down the river or hike along the Iron Ore Belt Access, a trail that winds through a diverse mixture of wetlands and forests.
- Neuse River Trail
The Neuse River Trail is another hybrid trail, and it’s part of the NC Mountains to Sea Trail. There’s a nearly flat paved greenway that meanders for close to 30 miles along the river, starting just east of Raleigh. Alternatively, you can paddle 170 miles of the river from Smithfield to Havelock.
- Jones Lake State Park
Get out for a paddle on the cool, calm waters of Jones Lake or hike the 4-mile Jones Lake Trail that has plenty of shade along with sandy ridges and bay forest.
- Fort Macon State Park
There’s plenty to do at Fort Macon State Park. In addition to walking through the history of the fort, you can hike the 3.2-mile Elliott Coues Nature Trail or kayak in Bouge Sound for a refreshing cruise on the water.
- Roan Mountain
Straddling the North Carolina and Tennessee state line, Roan Mountain offers a high-elevation trail experience like few others. The Appalachian Trail offers stunning 360-degree views, cooler temperatures, and, when in season, beautiful wildflowers. The short 1.5-mile hike to Round Bald is a great one to check out!
- French Broad River Paddle Trail
The French Broad River Paddle Trail starts near Rosman, meandering through farmlands and the heart of Pisgah National Forest, passing by the Biltmore Estate and into the River Arts District in Asheville before continuing north into Tennessee. There are designated, reservable campsites along the generally flat water river.
Remember, no matter where you’re going, it’s always essential to adequately prepare for these adventures, especially in the summer heat. Take necessary supplies, stay hydrated, protect your skin, and let someone know your plans before you go! Enjoy exploring these trails and beating the summer heat in The Great Trails State!
For additional trail ideas and resources, check out the “Find a Trail” page here on greattrailsnc.com!