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Book review: Guide highlights best of NC State Parks trails

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After living in North Carolina for over 15 years, I’ve hiked most of this state. But, I am always looking for hiking suggestions.

Guides are not normally my go-to source, mainly because I hate to carry the book on trail. The turn-by-turn descriptions aren’t helpful to me, and it’s cumbersome to dig through when you just need a quick hit of info.

Yet, who doesn’t love a good checklist?

UNC Press, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, recently released “Hiking North Carolina’s State Parks: The Best Trail Adventures from the Appalachians to the Atlantic” by Johnny Molloy.

I’ll admit, I am not familiar with Molloy. The book does list his credentials, but not until the end (after the index). An avid backpacker who lives in Tennessee, he’s also the author of 80 other books and guides, mainly about the outdoors.

Flipping through the book, I realized I had already hiked a few of the recommended trails; a good sign that this book was going to be helpful. I was pleased with the trails it listed, leading me to think I would enjoy the others I had not hiked.

The 51 hikes recommended in the book are scattered from the mountains to the coast; most are in the Piedmont. And all are in our fabulous state park system. Unlike our neighbors to the north and south, our state parks are free. A day on the trail, for the whole family, will cost you nothing; not many places you can say that about nowadays.

Each trail “chapter” includes a map, a brief introduction of the trail and a step-by-step guide. It also includes a box listing mileage, cautions, highlights, how to find the trailhead and more. The chapters are detailed and explain why the trail is a must-see.

The book also includes a user guide, describing what symbols mean and the differences between trail difficulties (which vary widely). Know your own limits before hitting the trail. Also, just as important, a “plan your hike” section gives advice on how to safely enjoy the trails. All too often I see people who are unprepared.

For me, the highlight was within the first few pages. Handy charts list the trail names, the state parks and other helpful info, quickly breaking down all you need before hitting the trail. Need a two-hour hike? Scan through the chart and find the one perfect for that day. Need something at Elk Knob? A quick search finds a 3.8-mile hike up to mountaintop vistas.

While most the book delves into each hike, it also groups them into subsections based on what you’ll see on the trail, such as scenery, history, waterfalls, etc. It’s a quick-hit guide to find the trail you want, depending on your group or interest. I love waterfalls, while my husband needs big views. Got kids or pets? There are trails perfect for them.

Being on the trail is enough for me, but personalizing the experience is important to get others out there as well. And really, that is the point of these guides, to get people on the trail. It’s something we all should be doing more.

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