North Carolina State Parks from the mountains to the coast will be celebrating New Year’s Day with their annual First Day Hikes. All 41 units of the state park system will host at least one hike on Jan. 1. Among the hikes will be Hanging Rock State Park’s dedication of the redesigned Ruben Mountain Trail.
“This is the best time of year to hike that trail,” said Mary Griffin, who will lead the hike with fellow ranger Sam Koch. “With the leaves off of the trees, there are good views of Moore’s Wall, Sauratown Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Griffin said the hike is considered more challenging, mainly because of the 8.3-mile distance.
The hike will begin at the lake’s historic bath house, pass the lake and over boardwalks through the lake’s wetlands, through rhododendron and mountain laurel thicket then climb the gap between Cook’s Wall and Moore’s Knob to boulder-capped Huckleberry Ridge. From the ridge, it is a short descent to the junction with Ruben Mountain Trail.
Despite what the name might suggest, there is not much elevation change on the Ruben Mountain Trail; however, the climb over Huckleberry Ridge and back is noticeable.
“We will take short breaks every mile or so with bits of New Year’s inspiration or interpretive program,” Griffin said.
The original Ruben Mountain Trail was an out-and-back to the westernmost part of the park. The trail was redesigned into a 2.9 mile loop connecting to the Tory’s Den Trail. A contrast to some of the park’s older trails, which are highly compacted with steep grades with ruts and exposed rocks and roots, the Ruben Mountain Trail is an example of modern trail building with a soft hiking surface that gently rolls through the landscape with grades gentle enough to prevent erosion.
“It’s not a real popular part of the park,” Griffin said. “It doesn’t have a destination like the waterfalls or the views like Moore’s Knob and Hanging Rock.”
Ruben Mountain Trail is designated for both hiker and equestrian use. Hikers should always yield to equine traffic so as not to spook the horses.
The hike will return to the lake with hopes of arriving in time for the annual Polar Plunge. Registration for that event, which benefits the Stokes County Arts Council, begins at 2 p.m. with a costume parade at 3:15 and the plunge at 3:30. Hikers are encouraged to wear sturdy footwear, dress for the weather and bring water and a snack.
Grandfather Mountain, the attraction not the state park, will host a New Year’s Day sunrise viewing. Sunrise is at 7:38 a.m. Jan. 1, 2019, and Grandfather’s gates will open at 6:30 a.m. Admission to the New Year’s sunrise event costs $15, in addition to general admission, meaning $35 for adults and $24 for children. Registration is limited to 100 people and registration is required by contacting Judi Sawyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 733-2013.