Hike into the New Year
Most rangers agree.
There is something breathtaking and inspiring about a clear view atop Mt. Jefferson on a chilly winter day.
While the nearby valleys, which are home to the twin cities of Jefferson and West Jefferson, are blanketed in a soupy fog, Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area ranger Tom Randolph can recall many days where the ceiling atop the mountain was unlimited.
On such days, it is not unusual to see peaks as far away as Grandfather Mountain in Linville, Mt. Rogers in Virginia and Pilot Mountain in Surry County.
Even though every day is not as idyllic as Randolph carefully illustrates, Mt. Jefferson has a certain quality that is unmatched to a sunny, warm day on Ashe County’s most famous mountain. Perhaps it is seeing the bare limbs of mountain trees in a completely different light or the feeling of the wind nipping at your cheeks, but Randolph said the mountain is a real “winter wonderland” during the cooler months.
To promote the sights and nature of Mt. Jefferson and other parks in the N.C. State Park system, area parks are offering First Day Hikes on Wednesday, Jan. 1.
The brisk winter treks begin at 10 a.m. at New River State Park in Crumpler and 2 p.m. at Mt. Jefferson.
“This is a great opportunity to get outdoors, since it is a holiday,” Randolph said. “It’s a great chance to view the park during the wintertime.”
New River State Park ranger Joe Shimmel agrees.
“It’s a completely different woods you’re hiking in during the wintertime,” Shimmel said. “Typically, you will see different songbirds and hear different sounds. It’s really neat seeing the park in different seasons.”
The three-mile hike will begin at the visitors’ center, located at the U.S. 221 access point, and will explore distinct habitats, Shimmel said.
“It’s a really neat trail to take,” he said. “We will start by going down the Hickory Trail and then down to the river.”
After touring the flood plain, hikers will meander through a beautiful stand of pine trees on a former piece of farmland. “This is a neat transition that goes through the park,” Shimmel said.
Prospective hikers should wear winter clothing, such as gloves and coats, and sturdy hiking boots.
At Grandfather Mountain State Park, the first hike of 2014 gets underway at 1 p.m. at the Lowes Foods parking lot in Banner Elk on Jan. 1. Hikers are invited to join a ranger on a winter exploration, looking for tracks and other signs of animal activity.
Elk Knob State Park will also offer hikers a dose of fresh air and exercise with its annual New Year’s Day hike at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 1. Rangers encourage participants to dress warmly and wear hiking boots.
For more information on other area hikes, call Mount Jefferson State Natural Area at (336) 246-9653, New River State Park at (336) 982-2587, Grandfather Mountain State Park at (828) 963-9522 and Elk Knob State Park at (828) 297-7261.