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!

North Carolina Passports: Our First Stamps

Some of the best memories I have of my childhood are from when my family used to go camping at Morrow Mountain State Park.  We would leave on Friday when my dad would get home from work and drive about an hour to the park campground.  Pitch our tent and spend the next few days in the woods.

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I look back on those days now that I have children and I want nothing more than for them to have the same kind of memories when they are grown.  The sense of freedom my brother and I had when my parents would let us ride in the bed of the truck around the campground.  Getting to go explore the old homestead and cemetery from the 1800s that is still there to this day.  Even getting woke up in the middle of the night by my mom’s incredibly loud snoring, convincing ourselves that a bear was growling outside of our tent!  We still laugh about that one!

Sometimes we were lucky enough to get the campsite that had a big clearing behind it and right around dusk the deer would come out into the clearing and you could sit and watch them.  They wouldn’t let you get near them, but they didn’t mind you watching them from a distance.  I can even still remember those cold toilet seats in the block building bathhouse.

Sitting by the campfire at night roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, telling campfire stories.  Making sure Mom and Dad were still going to let us go to the campground swimming pool the next day because we just HAD to! And planning all of our adventures for the next day, which would include us two going off into the woods pretending to be Indians living off the land and then getting “lost” and freaking out until we would hysterically find our way back to our campsite (happened every time).

As I really look back, I was always outside.  We grew up in a cabin in the woods, down the dirt road that my grandparents and cousins lived on too.  We had a creek right in our backyard and a pond our neighbor owned through the woods, who would let us come over anytime and fish.  Things were different back then so we were pretty much allowed to go wherever we wanted to as long as we told mom where we were going.

I guess growing up that way, getting to explore and the freedom that came with it explains the need that I have now to still go as much as possible and see as much as I can.  My Momma always did call me her “Go Baby” because she said that even as a baby I was always on the go.

So maybe that explains why I got so excited when I saw the North Carolina State Park Passport Challenge that I posted about last.  This gives me an excuse to make going to all of the state parks here a priority! Especially because if we complete the challenge in 365 days we will receive the special prize pack which includes an annual pass to all of the state parks.  That means for a year, we can get in free to any park, swim free, passes to ride the ferry’s and also includes equipment rentals like kayaks, canoes, boats, paddleboards and many more.

When my husband and I decided to start the challenge we honestly didn’t know if we were going to even attempt to try to do them all in one year.  But we are both pretty competitive and now we are just determined to make sure it happens.  The kids are just as excited as we are, and keep asking me where we are going next.

So to get to all of the parks, lets face it, we aren’t going to be able to go spend a whole day at each park.  We are trying to group them up and visit a couple that are close to one another each time we go.  What we are doing though is keeping a list of the parks that we want to come back to and what was there so that we can plan to come back and spend more time there, maybe even make it a weekend camping trip! But don’t get me wrong, we are trying to squeeze as much in as we can when we go.

We started the challenge on January 1st at South Mountains State Park.  The park is located in Connelly Springs, NC and was about an hour and forty-five minute drive for us.  Let me just tell you, this park is a must! It is beautiful!

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When we arrived we went straight to the visitors center. The museum exhibits inside were very informative and the kids really enjoyed them.  After we finished up in there we were getting ready to go on our hike, but not before I got my magnet (yes, I am one of those people who gets a magnet everywhere I go).  Next up was our 2 mile round trip hike to High Shoals waterfall.

So just a little heads up, this is a strenuous hike!  My husband neglected to tell me this part before we started.  It is one of those trails that fakes you out, the first half of the hike is a piece of cake but once you hit that halfway point, BAM!  The second half of the trail is almost all stairs!  They are terrible, slick from the overspray created by the waterfall, and you literally feel like you are climbing up into the sky because the steps are so steep and are never-ending.

Honestly though, it is so worth it because once you get to the top, the 80 foot waterfall is absolutely breathtaking! It makes you forget all the stairs you just climbed. This is somewhere we are definitely going to put on the list to come back to when it warms up, because on the observation deck there is a mist that comes off of the waterfall that soaks you.

 

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Now in January, it’s not really that enjoyable, but we did stand in the mist for a minute but it was freezing, but I can only imagine how good it would feel after a hot and sweaty hike in the summer.

Once we climbed back down, we ran back into the visitors center to get our passports and our very first stamps!  We were ready for the challenge. We got some information about the park and then rode through the campground before heading out.

The campground is nice, and has drive up sites and backpacking sites. We also read that the trout fishing is very popular in the park.  My husband is ready to come back and try that out as well.

Now that we had our passports, it was time to see what park we were going to next. We chose Lake James State Park because it was only about a forty-five minute drive from South Mountains to there.

We were actually really disappointed when we got to Lake James because the visitors center was closed. We were so bummed out, just starting our passports and the second place we went was closed.  But luckily for us there was a really nice Park Ranger there and when I mentioned it to him, he was more than happy to stamp our books for us!

Lake James is another beautiful park, and is located in Nebo, NC. The lake is over 6,800 acres and has a nice beach and a swimming area. They even have lifeguards on duty during the summer. You can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards (May through September).  With 25 miles of trails, 15 of which can be used for mountain biking, there are plenty of things to keep you busy there.

We really didn’t do much there because the kids were still pretty tired from the hike earlier and the fact that not much is open there during the winter months, but they did enjoy playing on the beach for a little while.  Making sand castles, playing tag and even a sand fight or two, they had a blast!

 

When we finished up there we rode through everything and we are already planning on going back there in the summer, when more things will be open like the swimming and the rentals. The campground was nice there as well.  They have drive up camping sites and backpacking sites.

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Once we finished there we headed home. We were whooped and so were the kids. We talked about our day and how much fun we had. They couldn’t wait to tell their friends and were already wanting to know what parks we were going to next.  Little did we know, my husband was coming home with a special little surprise all for himself.

The next day we found a tick embedded in his leg.  Then of course when I tried to pull it out, I ripped it and the head didn’t come out.  So he had to go to the doctor and they dug it out. He got a tetanus shot and was sent home on a 10 day course of antibiotics for tick fever as a precaution.

Being as cold as it was, we weren’t thinking about ticks at all and were not checking for them when we got home like we do when its warm.  We are making sure that now we are checking for ticks to be safe.  We definitely don’t want to be seeing any more of those nasty little boogers!

This N.C. State Parks Passports challenge is awesome and I’m so glad we decided to give it a shot. We will be going to some more parks soon and cannot wait.  Make sure to check back in with me to see where we go next, and how many stamps we have collected so far.

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