On September 10, 2019, my wife, my at-the-time 3 year old and 16 month old, my dog and I hopped in our car and made the hour long drive to Raven Rock State Park.
That day marked the beginning of our journey to visit all 41 state parks in North Carolina within 365 days through the NC State Park Passport Program. Besides the experiences and bragging rights of visiting the parks, the state also sends you prizes for every 10 parks visited. The more parks you visit, the better the prizes get.
What did I learn hiking while 41 parks with my family over the course of a year?
1. Hiking with small kids is lots of fun, but your expectations need to be tempered.
Nearly all the parks were enjoyable despite rain, heat, bugs, or ‘Rona rules. The kids loved hiking, seeing sites, and discovering animals. But, I had to temper my expectations. Sometimes our pace was agonizingly slow. Half the fun was NOT in the journey. Car seats are not comfortable and many, many a car ride included crying on the way there, on the way back, or both. While the kids didn’t mind the rain; I did. The ‘Rona panic did take away from some of our enjoyment.
2. Toddlers love water.
My kids love water puddles, rivers, waterfalls – especially waterfalls. Several months after our visit, my oldest is still talking about our trip to South Mountains SP where we hiked along a creek and rock scrambled up to a large waterfall.
If you haven’t noticed, there is now a dire shortage of sticks and rocks in our waterways? Yes! My kids are diligently doing their best to resolve this pressing issue. At the Eno River, we had to set a timer on my phone for when my oldest could pick a stick and throw it into the river because we couldn’t walk more than 3 steps without him having to stop to grab a stick and toss it in.
At South Mountains, I let my dog go in the creek. Since we were stopped, my oldest took the opportunity to throw a rock in (not at the dog) and my dog pounced on the splash. Well, that was just hilarious, and both kids began tossing rocks in and the dog was pouncing everywhere. I got to enjoy the greatest sound God created, toddlers laughing.
3. SLD, our NC State park service, is making nice improvements to the system.
Several parks are expanding and repurposing parts of the park to attract and increase the enjoyment for a variety of interests. Mostly this is manifested by adding mountain biking only trails, but expansions include equestrian only trails and even primitive hike in, hike out camping.
Relatedly, every park had at least one short hiking trail that kids could do easily. Some parks even had a TRACK trail which was a short trail that included interactive points of interest about the park ecosystem along the way.
4. Overall, the park system is heavily geared towards waterway recreation.
5. Even a toddler can recognize majesty.
While hiking ahead with my oldest at Pilot Mountain we came to an outlook at which you could see Pilot Mountain, a monadnock, rising above the plains and Winston-Salem in the background. My super energetic son, stopped to look out and say, “Wow. That’s beautiful,” before promptly running off.
6. NC is home to a much greater variety of ecosystems than I was aware.
This was a great way to experience the state from end to end, and one that my family will do again. Not only are there several parks that I would like to return to to hike longer trails with bigger payoffs, but there are several I would like to return to bike or kayak. It was interesting to see the different parts of the state. Truly, I saw some beautiful sites, and learned some interesting tidbits about NC’s microecosystems and history.
7. S’mores are a totally acceptable breakfast food.
Here are my first entries for adding songs to my posts.