Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Day Trip: Fonta Flora Trail

Friends, doesn't a quick, easy day-trip sound good right about now? Let me tell you about one of our new favorites.

Last week we took a camping trip to the Highlands of Roan in eastern Tennessee. We always like to find new places to explore en route to our destination (the AllTrails app is great for this). Our drive from Charlotte took us through Morganton, NC, which is only about an hour and a half from uptown. There, we decided to check out the Fonta Flora County Park Loop Trail.

This 3.7-mile, double track, natural-surface loop is part of the larger Fonta Flora state trail system, which will someday connect downtown Morganton to downtown Asheville. Ultimately, the trail will form a 29-mile loop around Lake James. As of last year, more than 20 miles of this project have been completed. The County Park is on the northeastern side of Lake James, directly across the lake from Lake James State Park.

Here's why the Fonta Flora County Park Loop Trail makes for a perfect day trip.

It's easy to get to
. This trail is a very doable 1.5-hour commute from uptown Charlotte. When you get there, there's a large parking area complete with bathrooms and water fountains. From the parking lot, you can't miss the trailhead, marked with a beautiful Fonta Flora trestle. The trail is obvious, well maintained, and offers directional signs and blazes from start to finish.

It's pleasant
. The gently rolling terrain is suitable for all ages and skill levels. We hiked, but would consider coming back with mountain bikes for a good family/beginner ride. The trail is interesting and peaceful, whether you're an avid outdoorsperson or an occasional adventurist.

It's beautiful
. Our favorite part (you might call it the "payoff") was the spectacular view of mountain-rimmed Lake James about midway through the hike. But the entire trek through the forest, over creeks, and by the lake was gorgeous.

It's versatile
. While this was our first and only visit, it occurs to me that this will be an excellent destination any time of year. During these hot summer months, the trail offers blissful shade and some chances to take off your shoes and dip your toes in the water if you want. During fall, the foliage will be invigorating. Winters might be cold, but since Morganton straddles the foothills and mountains, its temperatures are somewhat milder than the highlands of Western North Carolina. And I can imagine this is a bountiful playground for all the plants and wildlife in the spring.

It's near other fun things to do. Burke County's motto is "Nature's Playground." So if you're up for more outdoor exploration, there's plenty to choose from nearby. But might I suggest you also check out historic, picturesque downtown Morganton, NC. Grab a bite to eat or (in normal times), plan your trip around events or activities. Or, here's a fun idea if it's apple-picking season

As an aside, when we went, we had our fishing rods handy and the kids thoroughly enjoyed fishing along a trail-side cove. If you're a fisherperson or have little ones who enjoy tossing a line in the water, this is a good place to do it.

The Fonta Flora trail is open hikers and bikers year-round and we look forward to checking it out again -- and not just when our travels have us passing by. Whether you do the County Park Loop or check out another segment (see trail map), I think you'll find this to be an excellent daytrip (or longer!) destination. 

How to get there: The trailhead for the Fonta Flora County Park loop is located at the Fonta Flora County Park located at 126 NC-126, Morganton, NC, 28655.

Don't forget to take: 
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Sneakers will do. 
  • Water: You can refill bottles at the parking area. 
  • Snacks: There are a number of benches to take a break along the trail. 
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The trail is mostly shaded, but not entirely. 

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