For Alissa Kocer, a weekend spent inside is a weekend wasted.
Since moving to North Carolina from Minnesota five years ago, Kocer, communications specialist for Duke’s Center for Genomic and Computational Biology, and her husband have made it a point to explore the trails, rivers and parks around the area, and in the process, enjoy a much-needed break.
“Our goal almost every weekend is to go somewhere where we can’t hear cars,” Kocer said. “As soon as the weather starts getting nice and until it starts getting cold, we’re usually out and about most weekends. This area is unique in that we’re so close to the mountains, we’re so close to the beach and there are so many parks and areas around here to explore.”
After years of collecting maps, guide books and first-hand experience of outdoor recreation options in the area, Kocer, her husband and their dog, Jameson, have their favorite spots. The Mountains-To-Sea Trail provides miles of peaceful hikes. It’s a short drive to big fun at Kerr Lake. And after one paddling trip on Goose Creek State Park, Kocer and her crew are ready to go back.
With the weather warming up, we got some advice from Kocer and other Duke employees on day trip destinations that can give you and friends or family a chance to experience the outdoors this summer.
“Getting outside is good for your soul,” Kocer said. “It’s easy, just find a place, find a trailhead and go for a walk. Just getting out and moving is going to make you feel better.”
Stephanie Scheller, a public relations specialist for the School of Nursing, grew up by the North Carolina coast in Morehead City and now calls Durham home. That makes her regular weekend hiking destination of the Quarry Trail at Eno River State Park is a perfect fit.
“Being from the beach, I just love the water,” Scheller said. “And the Eno River Trail combines my love of hiking with my love of water.”
From the popular American Tobacco Trail to the web of trails that crisscross Duke Forest, there are many easy and fun options for those looking to enjoy nearby trails.
For Scheller, the Quarry Trail, which circles a former rock-quarry-turned-swimming-hole and is one of many trails that lace the Eno River State Park, has the right mix of rolling terrain and waterborne fun.
“It’s a good day trip, a good way to get out into nature and relax, rewind and refresh for the work week,” Scheller said.
When Janelle Burner and her family visited Stone Mountain State Park in western North Carolina last summer, the weather was somewhat cool, and they had little-to-no cell phone service.
That was exactly what they were looking for.
In fact, one of Burner’s favorite memories from a recent camping trip to Stone Mountain State Park was when her 8-year old daughter, Sophia, climbed a tree, found a comfortable branch and started reading a book.
“She’s always been an outdoor kid,” Burner said.
Whether it was quiet hikes or a waterfall that doubled as a waterslide, the park had plenty to offer for Burner, an administrative coordinator at Duke Clinical Research Institute, and her family to enjoy.
From beaches to mountains, North Carolina has 41 state parks, most of which can be visited for free. While she is fond of Stone Mountain State Park, Burner said her family is always looking to try to find new spots, too.
“We’re travelers, so we try all kinds of different places,” she said. “We try to go places whenever we can.”
With around 300 miles of coastline, North Carolina has plenty to offer beach lovers. And with Triangle residents able to reach the coast in three hours or less, it’s possible to get your salt water fix with a day trip.
Mitzi Scarlett, an administrative assistant with Duke Cardiology, has been going to Carolina Beach with her family for almost three decades.
“Carolina Beach to us is just a family-oriented beach,” Scarlett said. “It’s not a bad drive, it’s straight down I-40. You can get there and back in a day.”
Scarlett said her children grew up enjoying the sun and sand, while her husband is a fan of the fishing. She and her daughter are headed down to Carolina Beach, which is near Wilmington, in June to check out the Carolina Beach Music Festival. This has become a yearly mother and daughter event that we can do in a day
“It’s just always been a good trip,” Scarlett said.
Joni Harris, business and facilities manager for Duke University Chapel, lives close enough to Falls Lake so that, when she sees a lovely sunset developing on her way home from work, she can pop over to a spot on the banks of the 12,000-acre reservoir and watch the show.
But even if you don’t live as close as Harris, the popular spot just north of Durham is still easily reachable for many Triangle residents.
Falls Lake is one of three lakes within a short drive of Durham – Jordan Lake and Kerr Lake being the others – that provide swimming, boating and hiking opportunities to the public.
For Harris, who likes to photograph wildlife, and her husband, who’s an avid fisherman, Falls Lake is the clear favorite for weekend trips or even the occasional after-work sunset watch party.
“I’m a nature person, so I just love being out there,” Harris said. “It’s relaxing. Being out there, after a long day, just hearing the water crash against the banks, it’s amazing.”
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