Jordan Lake State Recreation Area -- New Hope Overlook Loop (2-25-18)
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, located just south of the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area, is one of four such recreation areas in the North Carolina State Parks system and is also one of the top-five busiest. At around 4,500-acres in size the park is comprised of several disconnected units surrounding the large lake for which it is named, which was created with the completion of the B. Everett Jordan Dam in the early 1970’s. A surprisingly beautiful body of water, despite its rather urban location, Jordan Lake is hugely popular among local residents for its boating, swimming, and picnicking opportunities. What it’s not as well known for is its hiking. Much of this has to do with the nature of the park itself. As mentioned above Jordan Lake SRA is made up of several relatively small parcels of land which have been in large part developed to accommodate day-trippers seeking to enjoy the more popular activities of the lake. There are paths scattered among each of the units but most of them are short, so short you couldn’t really call walking them a day-hike. There is one notable exception, though. Near the south end of the lake is a unit of the park known as the New Hope Overlook Recreation Area and within its boundaries is a relatively new network of trails which combined offer loop hikes up to around five-miles in length. It was to this corner of the park, then, that I found myself headed one very warm February morning.
The New Hope Overlook Recreation Area occupies a small peninsula which juts out into Jordan Lake from its southeastern shore. It is home to a boat ramp, about two dozen walk-in campsites, and the New Hope Overlook Trail system. The trail system is made up of two connected loops, the “Blue Trail” circles the north end of the recreation area while the “Red Trail” loops through the wilder and less-visited southern portion. One thing to note before you go is the slightly odd system of marking the trails here. Starting out, as I did, from the main trailhead one notices that the path is blazed in both blue and red. This is due to the fact that the entire trail is technically named the New Hope Trail and the colors denote whether you’re on the shorter (2.7-mile) blue loop or the longer (5.4-mile) red loop. Because of this most of the Blue Trail is also marked as the Red Trail to let you know that to walk the full 5.4-miles you have to walk the Blue Trail as well. For simplicity sake in the following album I’ve simply ignored the “New Hope Trail” moniker and gone with simply the Blue Trail or Red Trail depending on what half of the loop I’m on at that point. Hopefully that makes things a bit clearer than mud. So, starting out I decided I’d do the full loop in a clockwise direction which would first take me around the Red Trail. This would get (what, I assumed) would be the least interesting inland portion of the hike out of the way first. From the trailhead the path heads into the woods for a short distance and then splits. Here the Blue Trail heads right for a quick hike to the New Hope Overlook, but I’d save that for last. I took a left, onto the Red Trail, and immediately found myself on a short but fairly steep climb through a beautiful pine forest. As I made my way south the hilly landscape became increasingly dominated by hardwoods but still maintained a pleasant mix of trees as to keep things changing a bit. Up, down, and around numerous steep-sided hills I walked…it was a surprisingly challenging trail. Not the mountains, mind you, but still a work-out none-the-less. A bit over a mile in the trail curved more westerly and before long I could see the blue waters of Jordan Lake through the trees ahead. Reaching the lake the trail once again turns, this time in a generally northern direction as it winds around the ragged shore of the lake. I soon discovered, to my disappointment, one of my biggest complaints of this trail. Despite maps showing a route that closely hugs the shoreline the trail never (not once!) drops completely down to the shore of the lake except at the overlook itself. While it was always visible through the trees, it took a bit of off-trail wandering to actually get down to the waters edge. This I ended up doing a few times…it’s a beautiful lake and I wanted pictures...but it’s a shame that the trail itself wasn’t constructed in such a way that more opportunity isn’t given for hikers to get an up close view without such difficulties. That said, it’s still a beautiful walk it could simply have been so much more. I continued north along the lake, the trail winding in and out of a handful of pretty coves, and eventually had completed the Red Trail and begun the northern Blue Trail loop.
The Blue Trail (which, as I tried to explain with some difficulty before, is blazed both blue and red) heads up towards the northern-most point of the peninsula which the New Hope unit occupies. The woods became more pine-dominated once again, which I enjoyed greatly. The trail also got a bit busier but it wasn’t anything I’d call crowded. As expected reaching the New Hope Overlook was the highlight of the hike. The view from atop the five-foot bluff is a bit restricted but scrambling down the rocks to the water opened up a full 180-degree-plus panorama of Jordan Lake itself. The waters were calm on my visit, with dark rain clouds moving in from the west, giving the mostly tree-lined lake a very wild feel despite its suburban location. It was a great spot to sit and enjoy the sound of gently lapping waves kicked up by the occasional passing boat. I was happy I had saved this spot for last on this hike, especially now that I knew this was one of very few lakeside vistas I’d have on my walk. After the overlook the trail bends back to the south for the three-quarters of a mile that remains of its route.
This was a very enjoyable hike. Despite not getting quite as much true lakeside hiking as I might have liked, the combination of the wonderfully warm morning paired with a comfortably challenging walk through a beautiful lakeside woodland still made this a good one. At the very least if you decide to go I’d recommend hiking the shorter blue loop but the red loop is a nice option if you want to extend your time and get to a bit quieter section of the park. So, without further adieu, I present a quick hike at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. As always…ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.682453, -79.048006
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 5.5 miles Hike Duration: 2:15
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 210' Max. Elevation: 370'
Total Vertical Gain: 400' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 73'
Trails Used (blaze color): Blue (blue & red), Red (red)