I’m amazed at how quickly I have gotten used to everyone wearing a mask. A couple weeks ago I was at my favorite coffee shop when I was approached by a man wearing a mask, sunglasses, and a baseball cap. Somehow, I recognized him right away. To be honest, it could have been his name tag. He and I have hiked together in the past so naturally we started talking trails. Seems he was expecting guests for the Fourth of July weekend and was looking for a family friendly trail.
Turns out, I have just the place. This hike will need little preparation, no special equipment and it’s easy to find. So, finish reading the newspaper, have breakfast, gather the family and any visitors and head out.
Let’s get the COVID thing over right at the start. The parking area may be crowded, especially this weekend. If there is no place to park you may have to find another spot. (I have given a couple more access points in the “How to get there” section). It could be crowded so use your mask accordingly. You’ll be fine once you are on the trail, just keep your distance. The restrooms will probably be open but… well, you know.
Fonta Flora State Trail — Trailhead to Harris Whisnant Road
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate. Feels good under your foot. Minimal rocks and roots. Minor elevation change.
Shoes: Almost any shoe that is comfortable. Just be aware that if you’re planning to get in some distance, support your feet.
Time: Expect to spend 1-3 hours on the trail. That is if you take your time and enjoy the nature around you. It will also depend on how far you want to travel.
Distance: Total distance to Whisnant Road and back is about 8 miles. This trail is an out and back so customize it to the distance that makes you comfortable. A really good turn around is Southpointe Drive. This will be the first paved road you will cross after you are on the trail. The out and back will give you about 6 miles of hiking.
Safety: This is a pretty easy outing. Regulate your pace so you are comfortable. Walk at a pace that allows you to talk and enjoy those around you. After all, that is the purpose of the hike today. Take a bottle of water.
Courtesy: If you hike on the weekend you can certainly expect to see bicycles. The trails are wide and unobstructed so you will have time to step aside and let them pass. Almost every time you will get a friendly nod or a thank you. Because of the easy nature of the trail, you will encounter families with small children and dogs. They shouldn’t approach but if they do, stay calm. They probably won’t bite. They just want to sniff your leg and move on. Expect the same from the dogs.
HOW TO GET THERE:
These days, the easiest way to find a spot is the GPS or Google Maps. Find the intersection of State Highway 126 and Fish Hatchery Road. You’ll see the trail head and parking.
The trail starts from the parking area.
If the main trail head parking area is full you can access the same trail at Linville Access. This area is basically a boat launch area but there are some parking spots available for cars. From that parking area, as you look at the lake, the trail access will be all the way to your left. Linville Access is about another mile toward Marion on Highway 126. Keep in mind that access here or at the next location are different trails than the one in the article. Trail quality is the same but the routes are different.
If the second area is also full, you can get to another part of the Fonta Flora by going yet another mile toward Marion until you cross the Linville River bridge. Look for the small sign on your left and follow the dirt road until you see a parking area. Be persistent. Just stay on the road. You will see RV parking off in the field to your left. Keep going until you see a small sign. This is a new portion of the Fonta Flora Trail and it is an excellent hike.
It’s pretty obvious where the trail starts. As we say in the South, “Just get out of your car and walk toward the restrooms.” Once you pass the restrooms, you’re on the dirt trail.
After about two tenths of a mile, you’ll see marker signs. For this trip, I recommend you take the trail to the left. That’s the marker to Southpointe Dr. A little buttonhook to the left and you’re on your way.
The trail is gently rolling all the way. No real hard climbs or steep descents. I hope you are like me and feel the “comfort” of this trail. The dirt under your feet and the way the canopy enfolds you is unlike other trails I have hiked. There is almost a serene nature to the entire walk.
Just before you reach Southpointe Drive, you will come upon the Paul Braun Memorial. Paul was a great guy and an advocate for the trails and preservation of the forested lands. We lost him too soon. Take a break. You are about 5 minutes from the turn around.
When you reach Southpointe, that’s a good place to head back. If you cross the road and keep going, it will be more of the same until you reach Harris Whisnant Road There is a pretty little bridge to admire if you continue but I like the idea of turning here, heading back, and planning my next meal. I once asked my main hiking buddy (not counting my wife) which was his favorite meal. His reply, “The next one”. I tend to agree.
I usually recommend picture taking but this time I suggest you grab a selfie under the arch at the trail head and put your phone away. Just savor your experience.
I hope this will help you to continue to enjoy the holiday. If you don’t make it this weekend, put this one in your pocket for future reference. It’s a winner.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.