3 NC Scenic Hikes: Spring Edition

The Latest From Carolina Traveler

We've crossed into that perfect April window where the temperature is warm enough to get us out in nature's playground but not so scorching that we'll need to wring out our shirts by the end of a 30-minute hike. From the mountains to the coast, Tar Heels are close to scenic hikes no matter where they call home. In this issue of the Carolina Traveler weekly newsletter, we're stopping to smell the roses on three idyllic NC scenic walk:

  • Our first of three NC scenic hikes transports us to a sleepy bridge over a rippling river — the Murphy River Walk in Murphy, NC
  • Our second of three NC scenic walks promises a magical kids hike along the “Talking Trees Trail” at the Tuttle Educational State Forest in Lenoir, NC
  • Our third of three NC scenic trails is only accessible by private boat or passenger ferry: the Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort, NC

In addition to blazing a trail through three NC scenic hikes, we're sauntering over to Mount Airy to see what's in season at the Mount Airy Blooms Festival. Speaking of festivals, we're still running our Charlotte food festival competition where readers can ENTER DAILY to win tickets to four Charlotte food festivals this summer!

Stay up to date with the best scenic hikes for all seasons, festivals and events, and family-friendly itineraries in the Carolinas — follow us on Facebook where we regularly offer free tickets and other giveaways and become a 2024 subscriber to Carolina Traveler magazine!

Rachel Carson Reserve has one of the most hard-to-get-to scenic hikes in NC

Can you spot any of the elusive wild horses of the Outer Banks? | Photo: Rachel Carson Reserve (Facebook)

Wild Horses On Scenic Hikes At Rachel Carson Reserve

Nestled between the Newport and North Rivers, directly across from Beaufort's historic town in Carteret County, lies the Rachel Carson Reserve—a coastal sanctuary among NC scenic hikes spanning 2,315 acres. This pristine expanse encompasses a complex of islands including Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, and Horse Island, stretching over three miles in length and less than a mile wide. Influenced by dynamic river and inlet dynamics and the ebb and flow of the tides, the reserve boasts a rich estuarine environment teeming with life.

With one of the most diverse ecosystems among the three NC scenic hikes, the Rachel Carson Reserve is made up of tidal flats, salt marshes, ocean beaches, and maritime forests providing refuge and sustenance for a plethora of wildlife. Over 200 species of birds, including rare and declining populations, flock to the site, attracted by its location within the Atlantic Migratory Flyway. Meanwhile, a variety of mammals, from river otters to feral horses, call these islands home, alongside Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, and an abundance of fish and invertebrates.

Wild horses, introduced in the 1940s and now emblematic of the island's spirit, roam freely, cherished by locals and visitors alike. To ensure their protection and your safety, please maintain a respectful distance of at least 50 feet. Accessible only by private boat or passenger ferry, visitors can embark on their adventure from the Beaufort waterfront, launching motorboats from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission boating access area at 2370 Lennoxville Road in Beaufort or canoes and kayaks from designated spots along the Beaufort NC waterfront.

People embarking on scenic hikes typically begin their journey near the trailhead at Town Marsh or the Carrot Island boardwalk, though certain habitats, such as the horses' watering holes and shorebird nesting sites, remain off-limits to visitors to preserve their natural integrity.

For those eager to delve deeper into this coastal wonderland, public field trips are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays during June, July, and August, offering a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the magic of the Rachel Carson Reserve. Please note that the tours run from 8:30 to 10:30 AM and reservations are required due to limited boat space. Join us in experiencing the beauty and biodiversity of this extraordinary natural treasure — sign up here

Murphy Riverwalk

The 3000-foot (wheelchair accessible) Murphy Riverwalk follows the trail of the old Marietta and North Georgia Railroad, which played a pivotal role in the area's transportation history. | Photo: Jamie & Tim H (Tripadvisor)

Bridge Over Tranquil Waters: The Murphy River Walk

Nestled in the charming town of Murphy, North Carolina, the Murphy River Walk is a gem among the best NC scenic hikes, affording an enchanting journey along the tranquil waters of the Valley River.

As you embark on your exploration, prepare to be mesmerized by the breathtaking vistas that unfold before you. Marvel at the majestic mountains that frame the horizon and feel the gentle embrace of the cool mountain breeze as you stroll along the riverbank.

The Murphy River Walk is, additionally, a gateway to adventure and discovery. As you follow the paths of the Murphy River Walk, you'll notice 19 sign posts with QR codes that you can scan to listen to brief audio narratives about local history, flora and fauna, and more. From colorful songbirds to elusive river otters, the Murphy River Walk is alive with the sights and sounds of the wilderness. Other interesting sites along this treasure among NC scenic hikes include:

  • ARS Hunter Pyramid — 30 foot tall monument — memorial to area's earliest settler
  • Cherokee Encampment — bridge pilings over the Hiwassee River
  • Confluence of Two Rivers — joining of the Valley River and Hiwassee River
  • Cypress Loop — look for native plants and trees while listening and watching for river otters, ospreys, deer, and other animals
  • The Old Railroad Trestle — carried the rail connecting Murphy to Andrews — no train has crossed since July 4, 1992

You can access the Murphy River Walk at one of three trailheads:

  • Pool/Wellness Center and ball fields at Konehete Park, County Health Dept.
  • Hilton Street, middle of McClelland Street
  • Old L&N Depot at the river bridge in town

View Town of Murphy NC Murphy River Walk Map


The Talking Trees Trail at Tuttle Educational Forest is one of the best NC scenic hikes for families

Say this five times fast: Take the Talking Trees Trail at Tuttle Educational State Forest!

Puttering Through The Tuttle Educational State Forest

Nature's wonders await your discovery in the heart of North Carolina, where Tuttle Forest is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Embark on an adventure through a network of trails, winding through lush forests and tranquil streams. As you hike, keep an eye out for the diverse array of flora and fauna that call this forest home. From towering hardwoods to delicate wildflowers, every step reveals a new marvel of nature's craftsmanship.

The Talking Trees Trail (featured above) is considered an easy 0.6 mile trail that takes around 45 minutes to complete and is appealing to families with younger children. Encounter seven common forest types on the loop with signage describing their history.

By the way, Tuttle is free and open to the public. It's primary purpose is to provide NC citizens with a living outdoor classroom where visitors of all ages can learn about and enjoy the forest environment. Tuttle Educational State Forest offers a range of educational programs and interactive exhibits designed to deepen your understanding of the natural world. Learn about forest ecology, wildlife conservation, and sustainable forestry practices from knowledgeable staff and volunteers.

Helpful info:

Address: 3420 Playmore Beach Road, Lenoir, C 28645

Public access hours of operation: 

March 1 through October 31 | Tuesday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM | Saturday & Sunday 11 AM to 6 PM

November 1 through end of February | Tuesday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM | Saturday & Sunday Closed

Mount Airy Blooms could be included on the list of NC scenic hikes.

Demo topics include gardening with native plants, therapeutic gardening, and the edible landscape.

What's “Bloomin” In Mount Airy?

🌸🌿 Get ready to immerse yourself in a floral paradise at Mount Airy Blooms on June 8! You could definitely include this entire event on your list of NC scenic hikes! Presented by Mount Airy's esteemed garden clubs — Garden Gate, Modern Gardeners, and Mountain View — Mount Airy Blooms promises a delightful tour of private gardens nestled just a stone's throw away from the charming downtown.

From cozy cottages to sprawling mini-estates, witness a tapestry of successful garden practices that will ignite your own green thumb. But the excitement doesn't end there! Dedicated Master Gardener volunteers will be on hand to share their expertise, answering all your burning gardening questions and offering captivating exhibits and demos.

Discover the wonders of the edible landscape, the beauty of gardening with native plants, and the secrets behind cultivating herbs. Plus, learn how to combat pesky invaders like the spotted lantern fly, and explore the therapeutic benefits of gardening.

What's more, Carolina Traveler is getting ready to offer FREE tickets to this enchanting event! Mark your calendars for June 8 and keep an eye out for next week's newsletter where we'll be offering FREE Mount Airy Blooms tickets! 🌺🌱Read more about Mount Airy Blooms 2024

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival in NC

Just getting a selfie with a hog's head, no big deal… #BeerBourbon#BBQ

Surely This Image Could Only Have Been Taken In North Carolina…

Yes, in addition to being one of the best states for scenic hikes, we'd also argue that North Carolina is home to some of the best, if not the wackiest, festivals. And it just so happens that you can enter daily to win free tickets to not one…not two…not three…but FOUR (oh my word!) food festivals, all in the Queen City in 2024. Here's a teaser of the festival “menus”:

May 18: Beer Bourbon & BBQ There will be beer, bourbon, and barbecue. What more can we say?! Oh yeah, live music 🙂 Who says you can't carve your own Beer Bourbon and BBQ Trail and add it to our list of the best NC scenic hikes? Admission grants a souvenir glass for unlimited beer and bourbon tastings, with the iconic Shrine of Swine showcasing whole hogs and surprises. VIP Admission offers extended sampling hours, a BBQ Dinner Plate, exclusive lounge access, and live entertainment. Indulge in seminars with industry experts, groove to live bands, and explore a variety of rubs, hot sauces, and BBQ accessories.

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