News | November 16, 2022

Hikes we love: SELC’s favorite trails across the South

SELC staffers are known for taking time to hit the trail and enjoy the natural areas we work so hard to protect. In honor of National Hiking Day, we asked staff and attorneys to share some of their favorite Southern hikes.

Merchants Millpond State Park | Gatesville, NC  

Merchants Millpond State Park as capured by Kurt Conner.

“It’s shadowy and spooky, with boardwalks and swampy parts and beautiful trees. I visited once and immediately made plans to return a few weeks later and finish hiking all the trails.” 

—KURT CONNER, Litigation Assistant 

Blackwell Heritage Preserve | Travelers Rest, SC  

“A favorite hike of mine is a short walk with a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. SELC helped save this addition to South Carolina’s Blackwell Heritage Preserve by opposing a damaging development that would have altered the area forever. This hillside contains populations of one of the nation’s rarest plants, the endangered Bunched Arrowhead, and preserves the important hydrology for the streams and bogs where the plant lives.” 

 —FRANK HOLLEMAN, Senior Attorney 

Julie Youngman at McAfee Knob with her furry companion.

McAfee Knob | Bennett Springs, Va.  

“The spectacular view of Jefferson National Forest and the stunning photo op is your reward for making it to the peak. You can do it as a day hike or combine it with Tinker Cliffs and Devil’s Tower for a weekend backpacking trip. This fall, some friends and I camped nearby and hiked to the peak in time to see the sun rise – breathtaking!” 

—JULIE YOUNGMAN, Senior Attorney  

Southend Loop | Cumberland Island, Ga. 

“The full length of the trail takes you through a maritime forest full of salt-pruned live oaks and saw palmettos, followed by the ruins of an old Carnegie family mansion, followed by a marsh boardwalk on which you’ll see scores of seabirds, followed by a walk up the protected seashore. It’s not impossible to see deer, bobcat, alligator, armadillos, and dozens of raptors and other birds in a single 4.5-mile walk!” 

—ANDERS REYNOLDS, Federal Legislative Director 

Fiery Gizzard Trail | South Cumberland State Park, Tenn. 

“Sewanee locals and grads know and love this hard nine- to eleven-mile hike for its breathtaking views, verdant tree cover and mosses, and popular swimming holes and waterfalls. Expect constantly changing elevation, some tricky footing, and active creeks and waters that look opalescent in sunlight.” 

—RACHEL CHU, Communications Manager 

Beaver Lake Trail | Pocahontas State Park, Va. 

Rachel James and her daughter at Beaver Lake Trail.

“My daughter and I love being near the water and being surrounded by so many plants that are native to Virginia. It makes hiking a real treat as we are able to enhance our native plant repertoire each time we hike!” 

—RACHEL JAMES, Associate Attorney 

Hoover’s Moss Rock Preserve | Jefferson County, Ala. 

“My family lives near Hoover’s Moss Rock Preserve, a 350-acre nature preserve which has become a special place I return to weekly for reflection and healing. Whether I’m re-centering alone or spending time with my sons, the 4-mile loop reminds me of Alabama’s natural beauty and what’s at stake if we don’t protect it.” 

—SARAH STOKES, Senior Attorney 

Awendaw Passage of the Palmetto Trail | Charleston County, SC 

“Most of this trail follows the tidal Awendaw Creek as it winds its way to the ocean, and it’s peppered with gorgeous live oaks reaching out over stretches of marsh. It’s a great easy hike for a clear winter day. But as is the case with most trails on the coast, you ONLY want to attempt this in the winter, otherwise the mosquitoes may carry you away.” 

—JENNY BRENNAN, Science and Policy Analyst 

Purchase Knob | Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC 

“This area of the park wasn’t part of its original boundaries, but was added sometime around 2000. The best part is the old homestead, known as the Ferguson cabin, and its apple trees. The trail boasts high elevation meadows with long range views up on the Cataloochee divide.” 

—SAM EVANS, Leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program 

Purchase Knob as captured by Sam Evans.