This hike allows visitors to experience all that White Pines has to offer, from dramatic views to interesting wildlife to ecological wonders. Descend the bluffs to the bank of the Deep River before coming to the confluence of the Rocky and the Deep, a special place indeed! Continue upstream along the Rocky River at the base of steep bluffs before climbing back up to the parking area.
The hike starts on the Gilbert Yager Trail
, which enables visitors to get a glimpse of TLC's White Pines restoration project, where white pine seedlings from the unique genetic pool located at the Preserve have been planted. As the trail winds along the bluffs, be sure to take note of all five major species of pine trees that are found in North Carolina: white pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, virginia pine, and longleaf pine. After passing the second longleaf pine on the property, the trail descends several switchbacks through an upland hardwood community before crossing several streams and climbing back up on a bluff facing the Deep River. At the top of the bluff, numerous young white pine trees stand side by side with mountain laurel and gnarled oaks. There is also a small bench along the bluff in the perfect location for a rest, and in the winter, you can see the Deep River sparkling through the trees.
The trail continues for a short distance before meeting the White Pines Trail
. After turning right, visitors can enjoy looking for white pine trees hidden among the loblolly pines surrounding this old forest road. The River Trail
soon turns off to the right and brings visitors down to the banks of the Deep River. Along the descent, the Preserve's largest white pine, at 2.5 feet in diameter and over 100 feet in height, is visible just off the trail. As the trail descends the final feet towards the floodplain along the Deep River, the forest community noticeably changes to a bottomland hardwood community, with towering sycamores, river birches, hackberries, and even several swamp chestnut oaks. Though the trail may be muddy after heavy rains, follow the Deep River downstream towards it's meeting with the Rocky. At the confluence of the two rivers, enjoy the unique view from a well-placed TLC bench as you keep an eye out for bald eagles and river otters at play.
As you continue upstream along the Rocky River, remember to look at the bluffs rising to your left. These steep bluffs are the culprits behind the unique plant communities at White Pines because they lower the temperature throughout the area, allowing typical mountain species, such as white pine trees and mountain laurel, to thrive. Those bluffs also hold an overlook that is accessible with a short detour from the River Trail
(see map), which offers a spectacular view. Also be sure to note the trees growing in the fertile floodplain of the Rocky River, many of which are over 100 feet tall. If you missed the otters at the confluence, keep your eyes peeled and you may yet catch a glimpse of them in the Rocky. At the very least you may see their tracks or other sign, especially near "slides" into the river that are used by otters, muskrat, and beaver.
As the trail turns uphill towards the parking lot, there is a short detour to the remnants of a old cable bridge that crossed the Rocky and was used by children to cross the river in order to attend the local school. Climbing back up the bluffs, the history of past management can be read on the land. Notice that the top of some of the bluffs are almost completely covered by loblolly pine, where past logging occurred, while the slopes hold the remnants of the original forests, with the namesake white pines nestled among oaks, hickories, and other hardwoods with an understory of mountain laurel that becomes a profusion of white in April. As you continue to climb, note the structural remains of a historical homesite to the left of the trail, followed by a small graveyard off to the right of the trail. The graves are unmarked, and TLC has been unable to find any information regarding the graveyard. Finally, ascend the last steep hill that makes your legs ache as a sign of a successful hike as you return to the parking area!
White Pines has unique plant communities, including all five major NC pine species: white pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, virginia pine, and longleaf pine, numerous different oak species, and several mountain species, including the namesake white pine and mountain laurel. Numerous wildlife species can be seen at White Pines, including river otters, muskrat, bald eagles (at the confluence), and beaver.
The remnants of an old cable bridge across the Rocky River are visible from a short detour down the Schoolkid Loop. An old house site and small graveyard with several unmarked graves are also found along the trail.