What To Do When It’s Too Hot To Hike: Part II
In our last post we talked about some of the ways to beat the heat in the Carolinas. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it’s too hot and buggy for hiking through the woods and mountains to be a fully enjoyable experience. However not everything you can do to beat the heat has to necessarily be near the coast. There’s some places to go and things to do inland, as well. Here’s a couple…
The Raleigh Sunflower Patch
Summer is the time when the corn and tobacco are high in the field. However, not too many people have corn and tobacco sightseeing high up on the list of things to do. Sunflowers, however, seem to be very high on many people’s list.
Why is this? Well, people like flowers, and people like outrageously big stuff. Sunflowers are outrageously big flowers. Nuff said.
If you live in the triangle area, the city of Raleigh has quite a few surprisingly big sunflower patches, grown for a variety of purposes (including the making of biodiesel.) A couple years back we went and visited one of these way down in the southern corner of the city, along a bend in the Neuse River near the Johnston County line. It was very hard to find parking, and technically speaking sightseers are not allowed on this property at all (but the cops weren’t arresting anyone.) A mob of people stood about taking pictures. All in all it was a very enjoyable, if disorganized, spectacle.
Recently the city opened up a new more accessible patch at Dorthea Dix Park, not far from the city center. This one is entirely public accessible, has parking (note we didn’t say ample) and is, in general, better organized that the quasi-legally sanctioned one out by the news. We encourage you to safely and legally view the sunflowers at Dorthea Dix Park.
This website has a lot of information on it.
If you don’t live in the Triangle area, don’t worry. There are patches of outrageously big sunflowers everywhere.
And one last point about sunflowers…summer is really the only time to see them. They only bloom in mid-summer, generally speaking. So if you chose to go off season, sure, you’ll beat the crowds…and see an empty field, or maybe a profusion of wilted stalks.
Flower-seeing is good! Stalk seeing…not so much.
The Gorges State Park and Dupont State Forest
MUCH further afield than any mere sunflower patch is Gorges State Park and Dupont State Forest in very southwestern North Carolina…in fact, if either of them were a few more miles down the road they would be in the other Carolina, the South One.
When the weather gets hot, many people run to waterfalls to cool off. Generally speaking we don’t; unlike the wide upon coastal areas, which tend to disperse crowds, waterfalls concentrate them in one place. Brian and Sylvia have seldom seen larger crowds as those around the base of an average waterfall during summer. And we have seldom seen the like of the tomfoolery that goes on beneath waterfalls, either. They can be dangerous places, especially for the ‘hard of thinking.’
But we do recommend the Gorges State Park, and its nearby neighbor Dupont State Forest, for two reasons. One, they have a LOT of waterfalls, and big ones, without too much hiking needed to reach either. Two, they are remote enough so that the crowds will not be THAT big or unruly…as opposed to, say, Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls. You can also get right up close and personal to the falls here, unlike at nearby Whitewater Falls, which can only be viewed (safely) from a distance.
In Gorges, be sure to check out Rainbow Falls. It’s one of several falls in this fine park, rapidly becoming one of our favorites in the state, and it’s the best in our opinion. In fact, we think this may be a candidate for the Best Waterfall in North Carolina, and the second best in the region (behind only the Ramsey Cascades.)
Dupont State Forest is somewhat more established and famous. The terrain is so unique that Hollywood Movies have been filmed here (Last of the Mohicans, and more recently The Hunger Games.) Every Hiker should try at least to see High Falls and Triple Falls. Both are more cascades than Falls, but both are also BIG (150 feet in the case of appropriately named High Falls.) Both these falls are easily accessible with short hikes…A longer walk takes you to Bridal Veil Falls, another big (120 foot) cascade. There are actually other falls in this very fine park unit, but those are the big ones. Expect bigger crowds at Dupont, so try to go midweek if you can.
Now, lets make one thing clear. Brian and Sylvia do NOT NOT NOT repeat NOT advise you to climb on any of the aforementioned falls. Shenanigans on waterfalls is THE EASIEST WAY to get hurt in the outdoors, bar none, and every year people perish on Appalachian waterfalls in completely avoidable accidents. We advise you to SAFELY enjoy these treasures of nature and not treat them as your own personal water parks, endangering yourself and others, as well as causing harm to the falls themselves.
We’ll add one caveat about waterfalls…summer is the time you’ll want to cool off in them most, but it is NOT in our opinion the best time to visit them. The best time is in spring when the snow melt is still in progress, streams and rivers are pumping with water and the falls are REALLY going. What makes a waterfall spectacular is seldom how far the water falls, but rather the amount of water that falls. A gushing waterfall ten feet tall will seem like Niagra Falls, while a 500-foot waterfall with a trickle running over won’t seem like much. Our advice is…see them in spring, too, when they are at peak and when the crowds are smaller. You won’t be disappointed.
At any rate, both the Gorges and Dupont Forest are worth the drive west at any time of year. Don’t miss stopping in our favorite mountain small town, Brevard, on the way.
We hope you have a great summer! Stay Cool!