Explore the Haw River Hiking Trail (HRT)

When most people think of hiking in North Carolina, they immediately focus on the mountainous, western portion of the state, fixating on crown jewels like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and cities like Asheville.

As a hiking destination, the North Carolina Piedmont is often overlooked (even by locals), but over the years, this area has quietly accumulated an impressive collection of hiking trails, and one of these is the Haw River Trail (HRT).

The HRT features numerous trail sections that eventually will be connected to form a single trail that runs through the Haw River corridor. When completed, the HRT should about 80 miles, but there are still plenty of unique sections available to hike right now.

Hiking through History

The HRT offers a unique opportunity to connect to nature while also appreciating local history, as the trail follows the Haw River, which had significant ecological and economic importance for Alamance County and surrounding areas.

The sense of walking through history is most noticeable when hiking in the Glencoe area. Beginning at Great Bend Park, you wind through a second-growth hardwood and pine forest as you descend to the banks of the Haw River. Here, you will still find locals fishing for catfish and bass, and you can visit the Glencoe Mill Race dam, which on high-water days throws huge amounts of water—and sometimes tree trunks!—over the dam and into the current below.

From here, the HRT departs from the river and traverses the Glencoe Mill Village, an historic neighborhood and restored 19th century textile mill village. Walking through this neighborhood, you can view the architecture of the time, read signs about the area’s history, and visit the Textile Heritage Museum.

To get back to the woods, continue down Glencoe Road to Glencoe Paddle Access, the starting point for a gorgeous section of trail that ends at another abandoned mill. This section cuts away from the river at times and offers some elevation change, only to move back towards the water at scenic spots to view rapids.

Though not a wilderness experience, hiking the HRT can give the feeling that civilization is far away and that you have traveled back in time.

The Importance of Conservation

As Aldo Leopold noted in his essay “The Land Ethic,” “we can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

For these reasons, the Haw River Trail was created with the concept of “conservation through recreation.” Fundamentally, people value what they have experienced first-hand, so providing recreation opportunities allows visitors to make memories on the landscape. These experiences create engaged citizens who not only will enjoy their natural heritage but also will work to conserve it for future generations.

For many people, conservation may seem a less pressing issue than economics or health concerns; however, a closer look reveals that land conservation influences every corner of our lives.

The Haw River Trail Organization identifies six core reasons to preserve the Haw River corridor:

  • Water Quality — undeveloped land along rivers helps to keep drinking water sources cleaner
  • Land Preservation – preserving rural areas, including farms and other open spaces, is critical
  • Wildlife Habitat – a variety of wildlife depend on natural habitat and clean water to survive
  • Tourism – eco-friendly recreational opportunities bring customers to local businesses
  • Property Value – green space is at a premium, and nature trails can increase property values
  • Family Legacy – preserving family-owned land creates an historical legacy for local people

Where to Hike on the Haw River Hiking Trail

Though currently in separate sections, the entire Haw River Trail (HRT) corridor will extend about 80 miles, starting at Haw River State Park and following the Haw River all the way to Jordan Lake State Recreational Area. At present, the HRT offers about 20 miles of hiking in Alamance County alone.

To get hiking, check out this map of the Haw River Hiking trail.

Other Recommended Activities on the Haw River Trail

Aside from hiking, popular activities also include leisurely walking, trail running, and dog walking.

Many visitors also like to sit on benches by the river or to make use of picnic areas with attractive river views.

There are plenty of areas to fish, either from the bank or by wading into the river.

No mountain bikes are allowed on the HRT.

There is also a Haw River Paddle Trail, which offers 14 paddle access options for canoeists and kayakers. For those who usually hike the trail, experiencing the Haw River from a boat can help you rediscover the natural beauty of the area and see it with fresh eyes.

Join Us on the Haw River Trail

If you would like to book a paddle trip on the Haw River Paddle Trail, we offer a variety of trips or can put together a custom trip for your group.