North Carolina Passport Challenge: Close to Home

Memories. Looking back on my childhood one thing always stands out, Morrow Mountain State Park. Home to some of my fondest memories growing up, this is where my parents used to always take us camping. I can still close my eyes and remember the smells, the trees surrounding our campsite, the bathhouse and how cold the concrete block walls were even in the heat of summer. All of the adventures that my brother and I had there, I love reminiscing about those times.

Now that I have children of my own, I want to create the same opportunities for them to have adventures of their own that they can look back on and remember. That is why travel is so important to me. I don’t believe we were put here to stand still if that were the case I think we would have roots and be planted in the ground. We were made to explore this beautiful world, and I intend to!

My husband and I woke up one Saturday morning and decided to take a day trip somewhere and let the kids run out some of their pent up energy. We didn’t want to go far so we decided to go to Morrow Mountain because it is only about an hour from our house.

When we got there we went to the Visitors Center to get our passports stamped. We try to do that first thing when we arrive so that we don’t forget and leave without getting it done. The Park Ranger was set up out front with a table full of snake skins and mounted animals. They even had a bear skin.

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We got to learn lots of really interesting facts about owls and then he started talking about snakes. He showed us different snake skins and explained to the kids all of the different kinds of snakes we have here in our area and which ones to stay away from.

After a little bit, we went inside and had our passports stamped. We grabbed a park map and decided to walk down to the little exhibit hall they have. It is small, but it’s full of so many really neat exhibits.

The first thing my daughter did when she walked in was go to the gold panning exhibit. They have gold pans laying out that are covered and connected to the table, they are really neat, full of what looks like gold nuggets, you can swish the water around and find them.

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We have been here many times and every time we come back to the exhibit hall because it is so cool! There are Indian artifacts, different animals that live in the area and tons of facts about them, rocks and minerals and even a little set up that shows how the early explorers used to work.

There are many other things to do at Morrow Mountain, especially during the summer. My brother and I loved camping there when we were little because they have a huge pool and we would look forward to that every time! You can also rent kayaks and canoes and can use them to go fishing.

Now we were on to my favorite thing about Morrow Mountain State Park. The homestead of Dr. Francis Kron, a Doctor from the 19th century. He was the first physician in the area. In the 1960s his home, greenhouse,  doctors office and infirmary were reconstructed and very closely resemble how they did in 1870.

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Down behind the house in the woods, not a very long walk is the Kron family cemetery. They were all buried in a section with a small stone wall surrounding it, though many of the headstones have been destroyed by vandals. That really makes me sad, because I can remember going to the cemetery as a kid and just being in awe of how beautiful the headstones were, I enjoyed being able to see where they lived and were buried.

We hiked quite a bit while we were there. We did the Sugarloaf Trail, which was almost 3 miles round trip that took us up the mountain and then back down the other side of it. It was a pretty tough trail but the views from the top are so breathtaking. We also walked some on the trail alongside the lake, the kids enjoyed stopping and playing in the sand also.

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Before you can cross this park off of your list, you have to drive all the way up to the overlook! No matter how many times I have been up there, it still gets me every time! This time we were lucky and made it up there right in time to watch the sunset! We had an awesome time spending the day there and I hope we can go camping at Morrow Mountain State Park this summer!

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North Carolina Passport Challenge: Six Parks/One Day

Here lately I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and I’ve been following an awesome travel blogger (DeeGees Life) who has all of these great stories and guides on some really cool places! Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos just to name a few, and it is making my desire to see the world so much stronger!

I hope one day I can make it to all 7 continents and see all of the different countries that I’ve always dreamed about. But for now I’m really enjoying exploring my own state and seeing all of its beauty, so back to my North Carolina Passport Challenge.

Our next adventure lead us to the mountains of North Carolina, and to some of our favorite areas! There was a good group of parks within a reasonable distance of each other so we were excited to see how many we could get to.

The morning started out nice and sunny and we honestly didn’t even check the weather before we left. I’m not sure if you know anything about Boone, NC but it reminds me of a snowglobe! It literally snows there all the time, all winter long.

The closer we got to Boone, the more fog there was and the darker it got. Then the snow flurries started, and didn’t stop!

The road we had to take to our first park was straight up the mountain and the higher we went, the harder it was snowing. I was starting to freak out just a little bit because the car was sliding and I was begging my husband to just turn around and we could come back to that park later.

We made it to the top and to Elk Knob State Park. Like I said, because of the snow we were pretty much in and out really quick at this one! We didn’t want to get stuck up on top of the mountain.

They had a mailbox set up at the visitors center that had stickers in it for the passports, but there were only three left and we needed four so we went inside and the Ranger stamped them for us.

Elk Knob is one of the highest peaks in NC at 5520 feet tall. Since it is still a relatively new park, there are only a few miles of trails, but they are working on getting more ready.

Despite the winter weather, the park tries to stay open as much as possible. Elk Knob is the only State Park in NC that offers cross country skiing (you must bring your own equipment).

There are also primitive backcountry camping sites available. I wish it wouldn’t have been snowing so much and we could have stayed longer but I honestly don’t feel like we missed too much here.

Next we were on our way to New River State Park. This is one that we have been wanting to go to for years and we just never made it there. We know a lot of people who go there to fish and camp.

The New River runs through some of North Carolina’s best mountain scenery. Once named National Wild and Scenic River, the beauty of this river and park is indescribable.

The visitor center was closed, but I read that they have really nice exhibits inside that are a perfect way to keep your children excited. Mine were really bummed that it wasn’t open. We even had to have our stamps mailed to us.

New River State Park is well known for its camping and fishing. It is also a sought after destination for anyone wanting to use their canoes or kayaks for a fun adventure.

It wasn’t long and we were back in the car, on our way to Pilot Mountain State Park. We’ve been there quite a few times, actually it’s one of my favorite places to go for a day trip and hike.

We stopped in by the visitors center when we arrived and got our books stamped. Then we drove up to the overlooks.

Pilot Mountain is most known for its mountain summit, which is more than 2,000 feet tall. There are numerous trails to enjoy hiking and sometimes you might even get to witness some rock climbers!

Horseback riding and canoeing are some of the main things people come here to enjoy. They also have a campground and paddle-in camping.

If you are ever in the area, Pilot Mountain is one park that you definitely don’t want to miss.

Next we were on our way to Hanging Rock State Park. We have also been here a couple of times before. There is something for everyone at Hanging Rock.

With over 20 miles of hiking trails and 8 miles of mountain bike trails, this is a very popular park and is often crowded. The hikes are relatively easy and many of the trails take you by some really beautiful waterfalls, making them a go-to for many people.

We have discussed going back to Hanging Rock this summer. There is a 12 acre lake with a swimming area that is a hit with everyone in the heat of the summer and I know my kids would enjoy it.

They have a really nice campground and vacation cabins available for rent, as well as canoes and rowboats.

Mount Jefferson State Natural Area was our next stop. There honestly wasn’t much to do here and it was a little disappointing. In all fairness, we couldn’t get all the way to the top because they had everything closed because of the snow.

The park has five hiking trails, and three scenic overlooks. I think we may go back and check it out in the spring because I have heard that many people love hiking here and it has some really beautiful views.

Our last stop of the day was Stone Mountain State Park. I love this park! This is the first place my husband and I went camping when we first got married.

There are so many different things you can enjoy doing here. The actual Stone Mountain is a dome of exposed granite that is 600 feet tall. You can hike all the way to the top and walk around on top of it.

There are lots of different hiking trails, from beginner to strenuous and also horseback riding trails. Looking up at the granite mountain from the bottom is awesome because it’s just massive, but the views from up top are breathtaking!

You really should check out the park’s Mountain Culture Exhibit. They have an old moonshine still, a loom, many animal pelts and a full-size mounted black bear.

My favorite part is the Hutchinson Homestead. It is a complete homestead with log cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, corncrib and meat house, all with many of the original furnishings. The homestead was built in the mid 1800s, and restored in 1998.

I love it because it really shows what the lives of the early settlers to that area lived like. Sometimes I wish we could all go back to living that way, no stores, you grow everything yourself and live off of the land. I think it would be so nice, but I’m sure it would be more difficult than I imagine.

That was the end of our road trip that day and we started home. I always love to reflect on the trip while on the way home. My kids enjoy looking back on the day and we talk about what parks and things that we did and what were their favorites.

Not sure which parks we are going to attempt next, but we can’t wait! Our North Carolina Passports are filling up quickly and I’m loving every minute of it!

Day trip to the mountains to see the leaves…

We got up yesterday morning and drove about an hour and a half up to Wilkesboro, to get onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is something we try to do every year. Here in North Carolina, every year people come from all over to ride on the parkway and look at the fall foliage, something the NC mountains are famous for. For years I wondered why someone would ride to the mountains just to see the leaves, but one year we took our son camping for the first time, and it just so happened to be the perfect time to see the leaves and it was beautiful! We’ve been back every year since!

This year, unfortunately has not been a great year for the fall foliage. Hurricanes, storms and just plain rain and wind have greatly devastated the leaves and many of them fell off before turning. All that plus the fact that it was unusually hot here, has just really messed with the beauty of the leaves.

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But, any day in the mountains is a good day to me! It was still beautiful as always! There were places where the color was better than others.

I’ve been wanting to see a bear in the wild (all the time I’ve spent out in the mountains and I’ve never seen one), and on the way up I told Michael (my husband) that I really hoped we got to see one! Well, we did! A little too close actually but I’ll take it! It ran out of the woods right in front of our car and we had to slam on brakes! It was so cool to finally be able to see one, and I even had time to snap a few pics of the little guy!

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We went on down the parkway to Blowing Rock (one of my favorite places in the world!) walked around downtown and let the kids play at the park for a little bit. Then we went and rode through Boone before heading home. I’m telling you, it gets harder and harder to leave the mountains every time I go!

We had a great day! The kids enjoyed looking at the pretty leaves and getting to go out and explore a little bit. They especially liked getting to see the bear! We can’t wait to go back soon!!!

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