Uwharrie Trail, from end to end

Thru-hiking means going the complete distance (end-to-end) on a long-distance trail. Thanks to the efforts of several organizations, all 40 miles of the Uwharrie Trail can now be “thru-hiked.”

Often we hike trails and visit parks and don’t think much about how they came about for us to enjoy. The Uwharrie Trail was originally built by local Boy Scout leader Joe Moffitt and others in the 1970s. The idea for the trail came about when Joe’s Boy Scout troop was driving up to the southern Appalachians for its 50-mile hike and getting lost in those unfamiliar woods. The son of a trapper, he knew the woods and streams of the Uwharries like the back of his hand, and his community connection meant he could procure the necessary handshake agreements to start a 50-mile trail right here – and the Uwharrie Trail was born (for more information about the trail scroll below).

In the past 20 years many sections of the original trail closed as property was sold or left to heirs who no longer live here. Thanks to the joint efforts by the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, the N.C. Zoo, the U.S. Forest Service and many others, several of the gaps in the trail have been filled, restoring those lost sections. Two years ago the LandTrust purchased Little Long Mountain, locally known as Bald Mountain, which has scenic panoramic landscape views from the top, and the trust has begun building new trail there.

Recently, land trust staff, friends and interns had the opportunity to thru-hike the Uwharrie Trail. Just three of us backpacked the entire trail: Don Childrey, author of the “Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide,” Duke University intern Rebecca Schoonover and me. However, over our four-day adventure, 22 folks joined us for various days and nights, with more providing support as trail angels – bringing brownies and cooking dinner and otherwise encouraging us along the way.

The hike held many highlights for me. At the top of the list has to be finding an orchid for which I’d been searching for more than three years: crested coralroot, which blooms only once every 7-10 years in really wet summers. A beautiful pink and yellow, this orchid blends in with its surroundings, is found in hardwood forests near higher elevations and is classified as a state rare plant in North Carolina.

We also saw Carolina lily in bloom, a beautiful orange, native lily in our hardwood forests. A snake crawled under our tent the last night of camping at Yates Place, and moving the tent must have sent him slithering off, as we never spotted him to identify him. However, our disturbance woke a few screech owls. We often woke to the sounds of neotropical migratory birds, at the end of their breeding season this time of year. We heard some of the latest season calls of wood thrush and hooded warblers.

The Uwharrie Trail is a jewel of this region and a challenging hike even in ideal conditions. In sweltering July humidity with tree-falls from recent storms, mosquitos, gnats and too many spider webs to count, it was even more of an endeavor. But that made the experience and camaraderie even more meaningful. We took time in the evenings to read some of the ghost tales of the Uwharries from Fred Morgan’s popular books, and even brought a storm upon us by digging for gold and scaring up the ghost of the Jumpin Off Rock. We saw many of the camps Joe’s Boy Scouts built, and we visited a lonely grave near Long Mountain.

This trip was a great reminder of how nature offers places to challenge ourselves and places to share those adventures with others. Carrying all we needed to survive on our backs for several days was no easy task as we climbed up and down our surprisingly challenging Uwharrie Mountains, but we all felt a sense of accomplishment and solidarity as we crossed the final steps at the end of trail, enjoying the completion of our trek as much the journey along the way.

Click here to see a video of the hike put together by Rebecca Schoonover.

Notes on the status of the trail and a preliminary map:

The trail is still being developed in places. There are a couple of stretches in the middle that are on woods roads that aren’t blazed. The full length should be blazed and hikeable for anyone by next year (2014), but there will still be that one middle section where you will have to walk High Pine Church Road and Lassiter Mill Road to access the Birkheads, as shown on the map. There is a new 4 mile section north from Jumpin Off Rock to Thayer Road that is now blazed and hikeable (a section that has been in development since January). The next six miles have been worked on but there is still work to do. The section south of the Birkhead Wilderness is on roads currently. Don Childrey is revising his Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide and will have all new trails in it as well.