Fall Hiking and Exploring Round-Up

It’s been about three and a half months I’ve moved from Upstate NY down to the Triangle region of North Carolina for work. I’m still trying to get used to my new job and surroundings. Having a full-time job means my schedule is less flexible than when I was a student, but I always try to go out hiking and exploring on the weekends, and here is just a round-up of what I’ve been up to. I’m not going to write much and let the pictures do most of the talking.

North Carolina State Capitol
The NC State Capitol hiding behind a memorial.

Raleigh downtown
A plaza in downtown Raleigh.

One of the first places I looked around in was downtown Raleigh. Since Raleigh is the state capital of North Carolina, there are a couple of state government buildings. There are also a number of state museum there that offer free admission, which is always appreciated. The history and nature museums were both pretty good in terms of both size and exhibits, especially considering that they are free. The NC Museum of Art, located outside of downtown, is also free and is larger than it looks from the outside.

North Carlina Museum of Natural Sciences
Pretty cool forest exhibit at the North Carlina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of History
North Carolina Museum of History shows off the state’s southern heritage.
NC Museum of Art
The main exhibit hall in the NC Museum of Art. I’m not a big art connoisseur, but I still needed an hour and a half to walk through the place to see the exhibits.

One thing that the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) is known for are its universities, and I visited the campuses of three major universities in the area: Duke, NC State, and UNC Chapel Hill. All three universities had pretty large campuses due to their considerable student populations. NC State had a very large campus with a lot of red brick buildings. UNC has lots of tree cover in the campus. Duke has its towering chapel and an elegant garden as highlights. All three campuses were nice. I liked Duke’s campus the most because the campus looked more prestigious with the stone chapel and buildings, and Duke is most prestigious university out of the three.

North Carolina State University bell tower
The Memorial Bell Tower at NC State campus.
North Carolina State University
Lots of red brick buildings at NC State.
UNC Chapel Hill
The Wilson Library is one of the more distinctive buildings on the UNC Chapel Hill campus.
Duke University
The Duke Chapel towers over campus and surrounding area.
Duke Gardens
The elegant and classy Duke Gardens.

All three of these schools are well known for their athletics, and college sports is pretty big in the Triangle Area. I haven’t gotten around to watching a college basketball game yet, but I did attend a NC State football game. NCAA Division I FBS football is big business. Even though NC State is not that well known for football, it still has a sizable stadium. In the game I went to, NC State was up against a team from the lower FCS division, so it wasn’t much of a game as the NC State Wolfpack bowled over the opponent, but the experience of seeing a college football game was nice.

NCSU vs Presbyterian football
NC State dominated Prebysterian at Carter-Finley Stadium

Speaking of sports, I attended my first NHL game. The Carolina Hurricanes play in the PNC Arena in Raleigh, and they are the only major professional sports team in town. Tickets are actually very affordable, probably because hockey is more of a northern sport, and North Carolina is part of the south. All the better for me. The Hurricanes are not very good this year, and they lost that game 0-2 to the Sharks. By attending this game, now I have been to one NFL, one NBA and one NHL game. The only big league that is left is MLB baseball, but I’m in no hurry to that since I’m not a fan of baseball.

Carolina Hurricanes vs San Jose Sharks
Canes vs Sharks in the PNC Arena. Sharks won 2-0 despite being out-shot by the Canes.

In terms of firsts, I also attended my first state fair. The NC State Fair occurs every October in Raleigh for about a week and a half. It’s similar to the Canadian National Exhibition or the Pacific National Exhibition that I have attended in Toronto and Vancouver respectively. There are rides and games for kids, lot of food stands, and some exhibits and shows. My main goal was to taste as much of the bizarre fried foods I could. The highlight was something called a Twinx, which is shown in one of the photos below. It was definitely a mouthful.

NC state fair
Nice day to be at the fair.
NC state fair twinx
A “Twinx”, which is a Twix chocolate bar stuffed into a Twinkie that is wrapped in bacon and then deep fried, and coated in copious amounts of icing sugar.

Just like when I was in the Capital Region in Upstate NY, I did a fair amount of hiking since I’ve moved down to the Triangle. I’ve been to most of the larger parks near where I live. Unlike the Capital Region which has lots of mountains (small mountains, but still mountains) that are fairly close by, the Triangle region is relatively flat. Most of my hikes involved walking through flat trails through the forest and near lakes. There are a couple of nice lakes in the area that one can hike beside or around. As such, most of the photos you’ll see are of lakeside scenes.

Clemmons Educational State Forest
Little lake/pond at Clemmons Educational State Forest
Lake Johnson Park
Hey, it’s Lake Johnson, another lake.
Blue Jay Point County Park
Another lake. This time it’s Falls Lake from Blue Jay Point County Park.
Lake Crabtree Park
To spice things up, here is a sunset shot at Lake Crabtree. (click to enlarge)
Harris Lake County Park
One final lake. This time it’s Harris Lake, and there is a nuclear power plant on the lake. (click to enlarge)
Eno River State Park Cox Mountain Trail
Not a lake this time. This is a little footbridge that crosses the Eno River at Eno River State Park.

There are some elevated views in the area from Raven Rock State Park and Occoneechee Mountain, but for really good elevated views, one has to drive west towards the mountains. I went to Hanging Rock State Park which was 2.5 hours away from the Triangle, and that was a beautiful hike with some gorgeous views of rock formations and fall foliage. There are couple of nice state parks in that area including Stone Mountain and Pilot Mountain. I definitely plan to visit those in the next year, and also revisit Hanging Rock since I only hiked one of the trails.

Raven Rock State Park
Finally, some elevated views of the Cape Fear River in Raven Rock State Park
Occoneechee Mountain
Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough is the highest point in the Triangle. It’s really more of hill than a mountain though. (click to enlarge)
Hanging Rock State Park
Absolutely gorgeous views from the Hanging Rock. (click to enlarge)

In addition, I also visited the North Carolina Zoo, which is located in Asheboro about an hour to hour and a half outside of the Triangle. The NC Zoo is actually the largest walkthrough zoo in the world, and this is due to the fact that some of the animal habitats are huge and cover acres. In terms of animal variety, the NC Zoo only have North American and African animals, but it was a good stroll due to the zoo’s size, and the fall foliage made the zoo very scenic even without animals.

NC Zoo lions and cubs
First time I’ve seen live lion cubs, and there were four of them at the NC Zoo.
NC Zoo elephant habitat
The elephant habitat at the NC Zoo is huge and looks beautiful with the autumn colors. Too bad the elephants themselves weren’t out. (click to enlarge)

The furthest trip I’ve taken so far is a fall foliage weekend trip to the actual Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. We stayed near the town of Boone in a vacation home right in the mountains. During the trip, we visited Grandfather Mountain, which is a mountain that looked like an old man’s face when viewed from a certain angle. The place is a private park with a suspension bridge near the top of the mountain. The top area offered expansive views of the surroundings, but the wind was almost strong enough to blow people away up there.

Grandfather Mountain
The suspension bridge at the top of Grandfather Mountain. You can see some great views, but have to be careful of the gale force winds.

We also took a short drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the longest linear park in the US. Known as America’s Favorite Drive, the Parkway runs along the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and so there are great views to be had all over the route. Autumn is probably the best time to go. We only did a tiny stretch of the parkway though, as the parkway stretches from close to the North Carolina entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park all the way up to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. I’d love to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway some day, and also visit Shenandoah National Park.

Blue Ridge Parkway
A scenic stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you squint hard enough, you can see the road continues onto the mountains in the background.
Price Lake
Price Lake, with its combination of lake, foliage and mountains, is a popular stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

That’s everything I wanted to share for now. It’s almost time for American Thanksgiving, and I have to think of something to do during the four day weekend. I’ll probably do some Black Friday shopping, but beyond that I don’t have any plans to travel. Even if I go somewhere, it won’t be very far. I might even have to do some work at home. Hopefully I’ll be able to sneak in some fun during the Thanksgiving weekend though. I’ll continue trying to settle in, explore new places, and find some friends around here to hang out with.

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