Hiking Challenge 7 is here! In Conserving Carolina’s and WPA’s White Squirrel Hiking Challenge 7, we invite you to take eight amazing hikes on lands that Conserving Carolina and our partners have protected for everyone to enjoy.

Have you been out to Strawberry Gap yet—a new trail in the Hickory Nut Gorge with breathtaking views? Have you seen the waterfalls in Headwaters State Forest, just opened to the public a few years ago? Have you looked over the dramatic cliffs at World’s Edge in Chimney Rock State Park? This year’s hiking challenge will take you to these extraordinary places—plus a Revolutionary War historic site, a nonprofit equestrian and nature center, a waterfall in the Green River Game Lands, and a rocky bald in a quiet corner of DuPont. There’s also the all-time favorite Bearwallow Mountain with its 360-degree views over the mountains and countryside we’re working to protect.

The Hiking Challenge is a self-guided adventure that you can do in any order, at your own pace. To share your photos and connect with other hikers, join the Conserving Carolina Community group on Facebook. The Hiking Challenge is open to everyone, but only Conserving Carolina members can become a Hiking Challenge Champion, earning their white squirrel patch and perks from local businesses. Ready to get started?

Boulders on Strawberry Gap Trail
Strawberry Gap Trail. Photo by Gordon Tutor.

Up for a Challenge?

Here are the 8 hikes for this new Hiking Challenge! You can find more information and links to the full hike descriptions below. Which one will you do first?

  1. Bearwallow Mountain
  2. Strawberry Gap Trail
  3. DuPont Loop: Quarry and Rocky Bald
  4. World’s Edge in Chimney Rock State Park
  5. Green River Game Lands Loop to Stairstep Falls
  6. Gravley Falls in Headwaters State Forest
  7. Foothills Equestrian Nature Center Trails
  8. Alexander’s Ford in Bradley Nature Preserve

Log Your Hikes here

Thank You, Witherspoon Platt & Associates!

Hiking Challenge 7 is brought to you by Witherspoon Platt + Associates (WPA)—a full service, conservation-focused real estate firm that connects people to the beauty, history, and culture of Western North Carolina through both the built environment and land protection. We are so grateful for their support of land conservation!

How to Become a Hiking Challenge Champion

Are you ready to get hiking? It’s easy to get started. Just look over the list of hikes, choose what you want to explore first, then follow the links for detailed information so you can plan your hike. Have a wonderful day exploring the great outdoors!

Log each hike as you complete it. You can check your progress in this roster.

  • You can do the hikes at your own pace. You can take weeks, months, or over a year—whatever works for you.
  • You must complete all your hikes before the start of the next Hiking Challenge. We launch a new challenge about every two years.
  • Only hikes that you’ve done after Oct. 7, 2023 count toward Hiking Challenge 7.
  • You can complete the hikes on your own or as a group.
  • Please share about your hikes with the hashtag #whitesquirrelhikingchallenge (optional)
  • Feel free to share about your hikes and connect with other hikers in our Facebook group, the Conserving Carolina Community.

The Hiking Challenge is free and open to all, but you must be a Conserving Carolina member to become a Hiking Challenge 7 Champion. If you are a member and you complete all 8 hikes, you will earn your White Squirrel patch and get perks from Mast General Store. Most importantly, you get to experience eight great places and deepen your personal connection to land conservation.

More Challenges from Conserving Carolina

If you love to get outside, you may also be interested in our Flying Squirrel Outdoor Challenge. The Flying Squirrel Challenge offers more flexibility in the kinds of activities that you take on, such as walking a greenway, hiking a mountain, riding a bike, paddling a river, forest bathing, or volunteering outdoors. It includes options that are accessible to people of all abilities, so everyone can take on this challenge.

All previous versions of the Hiking Challenge are officially closed, as far as logging your hikes and earning your patches. However, if you want to explore hikes from previous challenges for your own enjoyment, you can find the archives here for Hiking Challenge 6, Hiking Challenge 5, and Hiking Challenge 4.

Explore 8 Amazing Hikes—All on Land You’re Helping to Protect!

Bearwallow Mountain

Gerton, NC

2 miles round-trip (with longer hike options)

Bearwallow Mountain is the one hike that’s featured in every Hiking Challenge—for good reason! A short hike takes you to a grassy, open mountaintop with nearly 360-degree views. You can take in panoramic vistas including Mt. Mitchell, Mt. Pisgah, the Hickory Nut Gorge, Hendersonville, and the high country of South Carolina. Bearwallow is actually part of a working farm so you may see cattle grazing on the mountaintop.

Conserving Carolina holds a conservation easement on 476 acres, ensuring that this beautiful mountain will never be developed. We also maintain the popular hiking trail. This trail was the first step toward the 100+ mile Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail that we are spearheading—now with almost 40 miles open to the public! If you want to do a longer hike, you can continue from Bearwallow to the Wildcat Rock Trail or the Trombatore Trail or even link this hike to the Strawberry Gap Trail. 

Learn more

Strawberry Gap Trail

Gerton, NC

6 miles round trip

Welcome to the new Strawberry Gap Trail! Conserving Carolina just opened this stunning trail in the fall of 2022! It’s part of our vision of a 100+ mile Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail and it’s part of 16 miles of connected trails now open in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. Strawberry Gap Trail takes you through beautiful, boulder-strewn forests, to a rock outcrop with panoramic views, to a mountaintop meadow with more stunning views.

This trail is made possible through a partnership between two local land trusts–Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) and Conserving Carolina. SAHC worked with local families to protect the land, then Conserving Carolina built the trail. 

Two-in-One Option: Strawberry Gap Trail is located near Bearwallow Mountain Trail and it is possible to do these two challenge hikes as a two-in-one. You could do a shuttle hike with one endpoint at Bearwallow and the other endpoint at the base of Strawberry Gap. You would begin by hiking an out-and-back to the summit of Bearwallow Mountain. Enjoy the mountaintop; then return to the Bearwallow parking area. Next, cross the road and continue down the 2.4 mile Trombatore Trail until you reach the top of Strawberry Gap Trail. Continue hiking 3 miles mostly downhill to the the Strawberry Gap parking lot. For a bigger challenge, do the the shuttle hike in the opposite direction, mostly uphill. Either way, this shuttle hike is approximately 6.4 miles long. Or, if you are very fit and want to challenge yourself, you could do these trails as an out-and-back, totaling 12.8 miles.

Learn more

DuPont Loop: Quarry and Rocky Bald

Zach Young/ AllTrails.com

Cedar Mountain, NC

3.1 mile loop

How well do you know DuPont State Recreational Forest? Not too far from the famous waterfalls is a lesser known corner of the forest that will take you past a small quarry, along unique trails of exposed stone, to a rocky bald with beautiful mountain views. These trails are open to mountain biking, so if you’re a biker, you have the option of completing this part of the challenge on wheels.

Conserving Carolina has played a vital role in the creation of this treasured state forest. In fact, one of our very first projects was helping to protect the first 7,600 acres for the new forest. We have continued adding to DuPont ever since. In recent years, we added 717 acres of new public land, joining DuPont to a vast conservation corridor with over 100,000 acres of protected land. Today, DuPont spans over 12,500 acres for you to enjoy.

Learn more

World’s Edge in Chimney Rock State Park

By Kevin Adams

South of Chimney Rock, NC

4 mile out and back

Have your breath taken away when you stand at World’s Edge! World’s Edge, part of Chimney Rock State Park, is an area along the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, where the mountains suddenly and dramatically give way, dropping 2,000 feet to the Piedmont. This moderate 4-mile round-trip trek offers spectacular views and an enjoyable walk through a forest rich in many kinds of plants and animals.

In 2005, as this astonishing property was targeted for development, Conserving Carolina (then Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy) was on a mission to save it and add over 1,500 acres to the state park. In fact, to close a funding gap, our board members risked their own retirement savings and, in one case, a family farm to protect World’s Edge. They understood: it’s worth it. Once you hike here, we think you’ll agree.

Learn more

Green River Game Lands Loop with Stairstep Falls

Stairstep Falls in the Green River Game Lands. Photo by Michael Mascari / AllTrails.com

Saluda, NC 

4.6 mile loop

Experience the extraordinary Green River Game Lands through this moderate loop hike. This hike offers a variety of scenery, with mountain views, creek crossings, lush plant life, and the beautiful Stairstep Falls.

This is a great opportunity to discover part of the Game Lands—home to a great abundance of plants and animals, including many rare species. This public land also boasts one of the highest densities of nesting birds in North Carolina.

Conserving Carolina continues to help expand the Green River Game Lands, so you can explore more of this gorgeous wilderness. We added 600 acres at Little White Oak Mountain in 2019 and 78 acres in Saluda in 2022, with more conservation underway nearby. By expanding this protected forest, we are saving wonderful places for both people and wildlife.

Learn more

Gravley Falls in Headwaters State Forest

Gravley Falls. Photo by Jamie Martin / AllTrails.com

South of Rosman, NC 

2 miles round trip

Just opened in 2018, Headwaters State Forest offers 6,730 acres of new public land, featuring unbroken forests, beautiful waterfalls, and pristine trout streams. While much of this state forest is rugged, remote, and even trail-less, this hike gives you an opportunity to reach a beautiful waterfall with only a two-mile easy hike.

As you visit this waterfall, it is awe-inspiring to reflect that this new state forest adjoins over 100,000 acres of protected land in North and South Carolinaa vast conservation corridor for wildlife. The forest is open for hiking, hunting, and fishing. It is home to numerous rare or endangered plants and animals and the headwaters of more than 50 miles of crystal-clear streams that flow into the French Broad River.

Conserving Carolina is thrilled that we were able to play a role in protecting this mountain wonderland, along with our conservation partners, notably The Conservation Fund. 

Learn more

Foothills Equestrian Nature Center Trails

Tryon, NC

Hiker’s choice—up to 6 miles

Located along the North Carolina and South Carolina state line in Polk and Spartanburg counties, the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) offers 384 acres of varied terrain for hikers, birdwatchers, equestrians, and astronomers. This property includes hardwood forests, meadows, wetlands, and a pond. The entire property is protected by a conservation easement held by Conserving Carolina, to ensure that this special landscape will always be available for future generations. FENCE offers six miles of hiking trails, including a 0.3 mile hard-paved trail, the Wildwoods Trail, accessible to people of all abilities.

As you explore the trails at FENCE you’ll get to know a natural area that is home to field trips and nature camps for thousands of children each year, as well as a therapeutic riding program, and state of the art equestrian facilities. Although the equestrian trails are members-only, the hiking trails are free and open to the public. We encourage you to explore FENCE in your own way, whether you join a nature program, come to watch birds, or just take a hike!

Learn more

Alexander’s Ford in Bradley Nature Preserve

Reenactors at Alexander's Ford

Between Rutherfordton and Lake Lure

2.6 mile loop

This part of the Challenge will have you walking in the footsteps of a Patriot militia. On October 4, 1780, a Patriot militia of around 1,600 soldiers arrived at the Green River. They made camp along its banks, at a crossing that would later become known as Alexander’s Ford. Unknown to the Patriots, it would be their final rest before fighting the Redcoats in the bloody Battle of Kings Mountain.

For two centuries, the events at Alexander’s Ford were barely remembered. But now the memory of the Patriots’ long journey and their sacrifices for a new nation are memorialized at the Bradley Nature Preserve at Alexander’s Ford. Conserving Carolina helped secure three major grants to protect this historic 162-acre property in Polk County, which is now permanently protected by a conservation easement.

As you take this 2.6 mile hike, at times you will see the historic path of the Overmountain Men visible next to the current trail.

Learn more

Share and Connect

We love to see your photos and stories! Please post with the hashtag #whitesquirrelhikingchallenge so we can keep up with your adventures. Also the Conserving Carolina Facebook group is a great place to share about our hikes and connect with other folks doing the White Squirrel Hiking Challenge.