Did you know it’s the year of the trail in North Carolina? If not, now you know and we’re sorry you didn’t catch the memo before now. But it’s never too late to enjoy the tranquil nature that surrounds us here in Raleigh, and excitingly, the below trails are a short drive away!
One area we recently explored is the Pinehurst region in Moore County, North Carolina. You’ve probably heard about Pinehurst, the home of American Golf. It’s a charming village amongst the trees well worth exploring in between hiking the trails in this area.
But there’s also the towns of Southern Pines, Aberdeen, Carthage and several other small towns and villages in this area well worth your time.
We visited for a Spring break weekend, partnering with the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to experience and share their Pinecone Pathways and Sandhills Story programs in celebration of the Year of the Trail.
What is the Year of the Trail?
The Year of the Trail is the largest celebration of outdoor recreation in North Carolina history. It highlights the vast network of trails, greenways, and blueways that take you to stunning mountain views, along tranquil rivers, through coastal forests and urban greenways. Wherever you are in North Carolina, there’s a trail nearby.
In Moore County they have created interactive programs to help all ages enjoy the beautiful outdoors and trails. (Yes, younger kids are catered to as well!)
Where is Moore County?
The Pinehurst region is located in Moore County, southwest of Raleigh. It’s made up of lots of small towns, mostly known as Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen and they are all just over one hour’s drive from Raleigh!
All three towns are set up like a Triangle, similar to our own Triangle of Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, except these are only 10-minutes’ drive from each other.
You’ll also hear this area called the Sandhills, which is a region characterized of rolling hills capped by deep coarse sands and dominated by the longleaf pine tree.
Pinecone Pathways Program
Do you love a good treasure hunt? The Pinecone Pathways program is designed to get you on the trails and searching for pinecone treasure.
These aren’t the pinecones you’ll find scattered everywhere in this area – it is home of the longleaf pine after all – but of the delicate and pretty glass kind.
In collaboration with local glassmakers from Starworks in Star, NC, 200 glass pinecones were made which will be hidden along selected trail systems throughout Moore County.
Clues are given weekly on Home of American Golf social media as to where you may find one. They’ll never be more than 3-5 feet from the edge of the trail to ensure your feet stay on the path!
Pinecones are tagged with a special number and QR code so you can register your find. Share using the #PineconePathwaysNC on social media. Those who do will be eligible to win a two-night stay in the Pinehurst area and a $250 gift card.
Remember to think of others visiting. If you’re lucky enough to find more than one, leave the extras on the trail so others can get lucky. One is all you need as a wonderful keepsake to decorate your home.
The Pinecone Pathways program will run until May 31st. Good luck and happy hiking. Here are a few of the trails we did.
Moore County Trails
Moore County has about 50 trails across the region that range from beginner (including young children) to more experienced. They work for hikers, bikers, or trail runners. Here is a Moore County trail checklist.
It lists location, distance, difficulty level and whether you can bike on the trail. It also includes outdoor spaces good for horse riding, kayaking, and disc golf. Yep. Enjoying trails in Moore County doesn’t have to just be about walking.
The great thing about the Moore County trails is you can easily enjoy them on a day trip from Raleigh.
We recommend staying overnight as well to make an adventure of all the wonderful things to do in this region, but if you just want to stretch your legs on a new trail, it’s an easy thing to do in a few hours.
We started our first morning in the Pinehurst region with a hike around beautiful Reservoir Park in Southern Pines.
The two-mile loop trail follows the perimeter of the lake under a canopy of pine, oak, and hickory trees, offering you beautiful views the entire way. The lighting was soft, the air crisp, and the sky silent. It was a fantastic way to start the day. It is the Sandhills region so you may get a few gentle rolls, but really, it’s mostly flat the entire way.
We saw plenty of joggers and bike riders along the trail, as well as people fishing off the jetty or from their kayaks. It would be a nice lake to paddle across, especially in a small pocket that’s filled with lilies.
There’s also covered picnic shelters and tables if you want to set up for breakfast, or lunch after your walk. And Disc Golfers will be happy with the 18-hole course winding through the trees, following the edge of the lake.
Sandhills Story Trail Adventures: Nick’s Creek Greenway
Families with younger children will love this Year of the Trail initiative in Southern Pines.
We saw plenty of families pushing strollers along here slowly as their children interacted with Pooh Bear and his beloved friends – this time, not in the 100-acre wood, but on the Nick’s Creek Greenway Trail.
This original story trail features large, life-sized cutouts of Pooh and his friends on various stations along the trail. Each display has a QR code to scan which takes you to the story of their Sandhills adventures. You can read the next chapter for each one or listen on your smartphone.
Future stories in the series will be installed along other trails in Moore Country throughout the year.
This unique Year of the Trail hiking experience was created, written, and voiced by the CVB, primarily by Destination Storyteller Dan Dryer.
The Year of the Trail is all about encouraging people to get outside and enjoy the miles of greenway trails across our state. We all learned from the pandemic how vital it is for our mental and physical health to be outside and connected to nature.
This is a fantastic way to engage younger children especially and teach them from an early age that walks in nature are soothing for the soul and full of fun surprises.
I’m impressed and grateful that the Convention & Visitors Bureau has considered young children with this wonderful initiative.
The Sandhills Story Trail Adventures is a great option for parents with children ranging from five to nine years of age. However, big kids are sure to enjoy it too.
The Nick’s Creek Greenway trail is a 1.8-mile one-way hike on a gravel trail. It starts with a view of Nick’s Creek Reservoir and travels down to join the 2.7-mile Forest Creek Trail. It’s important to note there are no restroom facilities here.
Aberdeen Lake Park
This is a wonderful way to walk off all that food you’ll eat on the Aberdeen food tour if you choose to do that (see next section below).
All you have to do is walk across the main road to the picturesque Aberdeen Lake. The trail here is short and easy at 0.9 miles. It takes you around half of the lake crossing over a beautiful wooden bridge.
There’s also a playground here and a fountain in the middle of the lake, and lots of waterfowl. You can fish and boat on this lake as well.
We did not get to Weymouth Woods near Southern Pines, but we heard great things about it. Good news is, we can easily come back on a day trip from Raleigh!
You’ll find a network of nature trails throughout the 900-acre park as well as a museum, and weekly events. There’s also a Discovery Room with things for kids to touch and explore.
What to do in Moore County (after your Trails)
The Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen Area is known for golf and equestrian activities, but there is so much more to this destination for you to enjoy!
Highlight: Downtown Aberdeen Food Tour
There is an emerging food scene happening in small, downtown Aberdeen, largely in part to Tori from Foodie Tours NC, who for the past few months has been taking foodies on a delicious tasting tour visiting several of the local restaurants. Savannah and I had the pleasure of joining her for the Aberdeen walking lunch tour.
What I loved about this tour was the variety of food we sampled from different global cuisines. It really gave you an insight into an exciting food scene in Aberdeen you may otherwise simply walk past. We taste tested:
- Taco flavors from hole in the wall, Galaxy Taqueria, located inside a supermarket (the best kind of local finds)
- Spicy fried chicken biscuit from Mason’s Restaurant and Grocery
- Mac and cheese with BBQ pork from The Workshop Tavern
- French-American style cronuts from The Bakehouse (that’s a cross between croissants and donuts with custard filling)
- Tasting plate from Guatemalan restaurant, El Chapin 2 (also in Durham) with the most delicious guacamole and refried beans
- And, of course finished with a healthy serving of creamy ice cream in a waffle cone at Sweet Carolina Ice Cream.
You will need to wear elasticized pants as these tasting sizes aren’t tiny bite sized pieces you may have experienced on other food tours on your travels.
This tour also includes a few alcoholic (or non) beverages, including mojitos (I chose mango) at The Workshop Tavern, mini cocktails at Mason’s, and a fresh homemade mango juice at El Chapin.
You also learn a little history about Aberdeen while on the tour. It was in fact the first town in the Sandhills, Moore County region. It started with two families who came to the region for tar and turpentine from all the beautiful pine trees.
After they cleared so much of the pine trees (weep) they did not know what to do with the land as it felt so unusable. What brain wave did they have with all that empty space and slightly rolling sand hills? That’s correct. Golf courses! The rest is history.
FUN FACT: They first marketed the region as a wellness retreat area with gorgeous clean air from all those pine trees…that were no longer there!
Tori also has foodie tours in Southern Pines and has just started fun food experiences like a Mother’s Day trolley food tour!
Shop in Downtown Southern Pines
Southern Pines has a cute downtown area stretching across a few blocks making it an easy walkable shopping experience.
Savannah and I fell in love with Mockingbird on Broad, filled with a fun and vibrant mix of candles, great gifts and lovely finds for the home. Just seeing the beautiful displays inside is worth the visit!
Opposite the park in Pennsylvania Avenue you’ll find the mystical store Spirit Quest where you can pick up some crystals, or have some energy healing like salt rooms, reiki healing and massage.
See (or play at) the Pinehurst Golf Resort
If you’re a mad golfer and are coming for the weekend, you may want to bring your clubs. Craig was a little antsy that there was no swinging for him on this trip. He’s planning a golf weekend return with some friends.
This is called the Home of American Golf for its long history of golf in this country. The courses were modeled off St Andrew’s in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. I have been to St Andrew’s and I can attest to its beauty. Pinehurst has that similar wow factor.
Pinehurst No 2 is one of the most famous golf courses in the country for its beauty with its longleaf pines, legendary greens and it has hosted the US Open several times and will again next year (we’re planning to attend!)
If you don’t want to play a round, you can simply admire the beauty of the Carolina Hotel, the manicured courses, and the gorgeous Village of Pinehurst.
Enjoy Markets and Music Festivals
Keep an eye on the calendar when you visit. You may time it with a cool local festival or market. When we visited, the local Moore County Farmer’s Market was on in the Downtown Park in Southern Pines. You can pick up some local produce including honey, pastries and coffee.
We stopped at Live after Five for a while on Friday night to enjoy some live music in the sun and soak up the Pinehurst community vibes.
Where to eat in Moore County
Apart from all the places to eat in Aberdeen I mentioned via our food tour, here are a few other places we recommend eating in Pinehurst and Southern Pines.
There are a huge number of restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes. We plan on returning so we can share more with you. For now, here’s what we enjoyed.
Breakfast: Betsy’s Crepes
For a French-style breakfast with sweet or savory crepes, and Parisian artwork on the walls, head to Betsy’s Crepes in Downtown Southern Pines. They even have gluten-free crepes!
Lunch: The Deuce
Is there a better place to eat lunch in Home of American Golf than the Deuce Restaurant overlooking the famous 18th hole of Pinehurst No 2?
I enjoyed watching the golfers while eating tasty chicken wings at this surprisingly affordable restaurant.
Coffee at Amor Ciego Coffee Co
Don’t bother searching for the best coffee shops in the Pinehurst region. We found it: Amor Ciego Coffee Co in Southern Pines. In fact, it’s one of the best coffees we’ve had in North Carolina. Actually, make that the USA.
Funny story, as soon as I sat down at my table, I overheard the people next to me speaking and turned and stared. I then had to quickly apologize for staring, “but I recognize that accent anywhere!” We then had a very enjoyable conversation over fantastic coffee with our new Australian friends who live in Southern Pines, who coincidentally also met in the same coffee shop.
As Australians are notorious and proud coffee snobs, we all exclaimed how the coffee at Amor Ciego was just as good as you’d get at home. And then we all spoke of how much we miss Australian coffee. It’s a thing.
Have a local brew
For a small region, there are several local breweries and bars waiting for you after your hike. You may even find live music.
Head to Pinehurst Brewing for delicious BBQ and beers inside what was once the original Village of Pinehurst steam plant, which provided electricity to the Holly Inn, Pinehurst’s first hotel. There’s a large indoor eating area and smaller beer garden, and their own smokehouse. We had dinner one night and found their brisket and pork to be melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Their collards were some of the best I’ve ever had.
Any visitor to Southern Pines, especially families, will love Red’s Corner, an iconic spot to sit outside in the sun, enjoy a drink from the tap room (featuring NC beer), grab some food from the food trucks lined up, and listen to live music.
Dinner: Drum & Quill
We ate dinner at Drum & Quill in Pinehurst, named after legendary golf writer and broadcaster Bob Drum. This cute and cozy pub has English village vibes. Their food was standard pub fare, but of the delicious kind. Kalyra claimed her wings as some of the best she’s had.
Where to Stay in the Pinehurst Region
We stayed just outside of Aberdeen in the Hilton Garden Inn. It’s quite a new hotel, with very spacious rooms, and was beautifully furnished with a great lobby and bar area.
However, if you want a more quintessential Pinehurst experience you will want to stay in the Carolina Hotel, or perhaps rent a vacation home on VRBO. I fell in love with this village amongst the trees and plan to have this accommodation experience in the future.
What should we do on our next visit to Pinehurst, Aberdeen, and Southern Pines? What trail are you planning to do first, or can you recommend we do?