published Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Pack your paddle, hiking boots or harness for adventure in North Carolina's parks

Visitors to Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina enjoy the view from the Opera House overlook.
Visitors to Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina enjoy the view from the Opera House overlook.
Photo by Associated Press.

North Carolina's parks are ideal for the imaginative outdoorsman, offering whitewater rapids and scenic trails, but allowing you choose how to navigate them. The state has some of the highest peaks and best rock climbing in the region. Its hardwood forests are full of waterfalls and whitewater.

What you do is up to you. Just know that there are more mountain trails and rivers than you can possibly travel. Better start planning, time's a'wasting.

ESCAPE TO MOUNTAIN WATERS

Lake James State Park near Nebo, N.C., boasts more than 150 miles of shoreline, hidden away in the foothills of Appalachia.

• With two boat ramps in the nearly 7,000-acre reservoir, there's room for motor boats, sailboats, canoes and kayaks.

• If you tire of swimming, fishing or boating, the surrounding forest is chock full of short hikes with big views.

• There are 20 campsites a short walk from the parking lot; two are reserved for people with disabilities.

• Park hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from November-February, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in March, April, September and October, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May-August. Closed Christmas Day.

• There is no general entrance fee. You can look up charges for swimming, boat rentals, camping and picnic shelters at www.ncparks.gov.

Source: North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

THE HEIGHT OF BEAUTY

Climb to the highest point east of the Mississippi River at Mount Mitchell State Park near Burnsville, N.C.

• At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell offers incredible views and a challenging climb.

• For the more leisurely hiker, there are short trails that still come with the great views.

• Overnight campers should bring a tent -- no RVs or campers allowed here. You can drive to the "family" campground, or take a pack and hike into one of the backcountry sites.

• Park hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from November-February, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from March-April and September-October, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May-August. Closed Christmas Day.

• There is no general entrance fee. You can look up charges for campsites and shelters at www.ncparks.gov.

Source: North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation

VIEW FROM ALL SIDES

Chimney Rock State Park in Chimney Rock, N.C., juts up from the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering a 360-degree view of North Carolina mountains and valleys.

• The fantastic views at this park have been made accessible to the casual hiker. Take the walk at your own pace from the parking lot, up the stairs to the overlooks.

• With a gift shop and cafe, Chimney Rock can be an easy destination for a group outing.

• Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 5-15, and free for kids under 4. Look at www.chimneyrockpark.com or call 800-277-9611 for information about ticket plaza hours.

Source: Chimney Rock State Park

A RAINFOREST IN NORTH CAROLINA?

With more than 80 inches of rainfall each year, Gorges State Park near Sapphire, N.C., is considered a temperate rainforest. It's home to many waterfalls and a high concentration of rare plant and animal species.

• Hikers and backpackers can expect a challenging but stunning hike. An elevation that rises 2,000 feet in just four miles makes for steep trails with rewarding views.

• Cast a line in the parks streams and rivers, which are full of rainbow and brown trout and smallmouth bass.

• The park is open for day use from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from November-February, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in March, April, September and October, and it's open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. May-August.

• There is no entry fee, but there is a $13 fee for the primitive campgrounds.

Source: N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation

LAND OF THE NOONDAY SUN

In Cherokee, "nantahala" means "land of the noon day sun." The Nantahala National Forest near Waynesville, N.C., gets its name because the sun only reaches the valley floor in the middle of the day.

• The forest consists of 531,148 acres and ranges in elevation from 1,200 feet to 5,800 feet.

• Take the scenic drive along the Nantahala River, and watch whitewater rafters and kayakers make their way down the rapids.

• Several outfitters offer guided whitewater rafting trips. Or if you'd like to see the forest from up high, there are a series of privately operated treetop ziplines you can check out.

• There are countless ways to enjoy a forest this expansive -- hiking, biking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, camping ... and the list goes on. And on.

• There is no fee to enter the national forest, but there may be charges for certain activities.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service

INTO THE WOODS

There are hundreds of miles of trails, that wind past whitewater rivers and waterfalls at Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, N.C.

• Mountain bikers will find a seemingly endless list of trails they can access.

• Rock climbers who visit the national forest will find a wide range of routes for climbers of different skill levels, including the Looking Glass Rock near Brevard, N.C.

• For the more relaxed travelers, take advantage of one of the scenic driving routes, or float through the park on an inner tube.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service

about Mary Helen Miller...

Mary Helen Miller joined the staff at the Chattanooga Times Free Press as a multimedia reporter in 2013. She produces audio, video, and graphics for the Web, and occasionally writes stories. Before starting at the Times Free Press, Mary Helen worked as a radio reporter at WUTC, the NPR affiliate station in Chattanooga. She won an Edward R. Murrow award for a story she produced there about the anniversary of the 2011 tornadoes that hit ...

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