Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020 - 29

7 GREAT STARTER HIKES

While the hope is that many of you have read this piece and experienced a little jolt of
celebration at your hikes habit, there may be others who'd like to start. Herewith, a few
starter hikes.
GEORGIA: DESOTO FALLS. Hike this 2-mile trail north of Dahlonega through
leather-leafed rhododendron to explore a pair of waterfalls. Legend holds that the piece
of metal armor found at the falls is thought to be from the 16th-century expedition
of explorer Hernando de Soto. atlantatrails.com/hiking-trails/desoto-falls-hiking-doublewaterfalls-in-georgia/
KENTUCKY/VIRGINIA: BREAKS INTERSTATE PARK LOOP. This
4.5-miler near Elkhorn City treks through stunning rock formations and vistas of the 5-milewide "Grand Canyon of the South." For a shorter hike, take the Geologic and Prospector's
Trail sections of the loop. breakspark.com/activities-recreation/
activities-recreation/
NORTH CAROLINA: CRABTREE FALLS TRAIL. The 2.5-mile loop can be
strenuous in spots, but rewards you with stunning scenery. The pinnacle, 70-ft Crabtree
Falls, has bench seating in the spray zone. Located at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 339.5
nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/crabtree-falls-trail.htm
SOUTH CAROLINA: WINDING STAIRS. Its gentle grade and easy footing
make Winding Stairs trail near Mountain Rest one of the best beginner trails in the
Southern mountains. Hikers pass three waterfalls within 3.5 miles. discoversouthcarolina.
com/articles/winding-stairs-perfect-for-beginner-hikers
TENNESSEE: BAYS MOUNTAIN FIRE TOWER TRAIL. This mostly easy
5.5-mile loop above Kingsport meanders through the live animal exhibit and around a lake
before striking up the slope for a panoramic view from the fire tower. baysmountain.com/
programs/hiking-biking/
VIRGINIA: FALLS RIDGE PRESERVE LOOP. Two trails, the red trail and
the silver, form a 3-mile loop in the woods around the ever-growing travertine waterfall
that is the centerpiece of the Nature Conservancy's Falls Ridge Preserve. Trails follow the
stream that tumbles from the 80-foot waterfall, then veer away for views of the water. The
preserve lies 7 miles west of I-81's Exit 128. hikingupward.com/OVH/FallsRidgePreserve/
WEST VIRGINIA: HAWKS NEST STATE PARK RAIL TRAIL. A tram ride
into New River Gorge from Hawks Nest State Park lodge ($3) kicks off this leisurely 2-mile
hike to a small waterfall. The rail trail leads through the remnants of an old mining area
along a rushing stream. wvrailtrails.org/rail-trail/hawks-nest-rail-trail/ 	
-SC-W

FAR LEFT: The uneven terrain of a trail requires you make hundreds of tiny adjustments to your gait,
enhancing your brain power as well as your leg muscles.
LEFT: People who walk in a forest, such as West Virginia's Hawks Nest State Park's rail trail, experience
less anxiety and depression than urban walkers.

lower-body muscles perform in very distinct ways while hiking compared to what
they do during a stroll around the block.
Your walking stride on the flat,
smooth surface of a sidewalk is like the
swing of a pendulum. Thanks to gravitational and kinetic energy, once you
start that pendulum swinging, it's going
to keep moving back and forth without
much additional energy on your part.
But when you walk on uneven trail terrain, a lot of the rhythmic energy transfer is knocked out. Each step is different.

Your heart rate and metabolism go up,
and you burn more calories.
In fact, hiking on irregular surfaces
increases the amount of energy your
body uses by 28% compared to walking
on flat ground, biomechanics professor
and hiking researcher Daniel Ferris found
in a study he did at the University of
Michigan. Your leg muscles lengthen or
shorten during the action of navigating
rough, uneven trails, and these shifts
increase the amount of energy you're
expending.

But the benefits of hiking extend way
beyond the extra calorie burn.
Hiking uneven ground recruits different muscles from those you would use on
flat, man-made surfaces. You're strengthening muscles in your hips, knees and
ankles that normally don't get much use.
This improves your balance and stability.
Newer findings assert that hiking also
strengthens the brain. As Daniel Levitin
explains in his 2020 book, "Successful
Aging," hiking works the retrosplenial
cortex and the hippocampus, which aid

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

29


http://www.atlantatrails.com/hiking-trails/desoto-falls-hiking-double http://www.breakspark.com/activities-recreation/ http://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/crabtree-falls-trail.htm http://www.baysmountain.com/ http://www.hikingupward.com/OVH/FallsRidgePreserve/ http://www.wvrailtrails.org/rail-trail/hawks-nest-rail-trail/

Blue Ridge Country September/October 2020

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