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Happy trails opening this spring at Don Carter State Park
Hiking, horseback riding pathways soon will open to public
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Steven Emery, assistant park manager, talks about some of the key features of the new walking trails Thursday at Don Carter State Park in north Hall County. The walking trails as well as the equestrian trails will feature several wooden bridges and different paths hikers and riders can take. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Whether you’re an active horseback rider, an avid hiker or just someone looking for a new place to take a quiet nature walk, Don Carter State Park is adding trails suited to everyone’s wishes.

More than 12 miles of equestrian trails and 9 miles of hiking trails are being cut out and finished at the North Hall state park, and Assistant Park Manager Steven Emery said the trails should be open to the public this spring.

“The northern section of the part is going to be equestrian trails,” Emery said. “And then the southern part of the park is hiking trails. We’ll keep the two mostly separate, and the trails will be different.”

The hiking trail is much more narrow — less than 2 feet wide in some places — compared to about 4 feet for the horse trail. Both wind through the woods, over creeks and streams.

“There are some really, really nice views, especially up in the northern part, where you’re walking along a sort of ridge looking down at the stream,” Emery said.

Emery said the property boasts an incredible selection of wildlife and wildflowers. He said deer are often spotted off the trails. And wild azaleas, including the brightly orange-colored flame azaleas, and lady slipper orchids are growing in sections as well.

Though the trails are long, they offer several different paths for visitors.

“The hiking trails are designed in such a way that if you want to go for an 8-mile hike, you can do that and not see the same stuff twice,” Emery said. “If you want to just take a half-mile stroll, you’ll be able to do that as well. We tried to design it with a lot of cut-throughs, so you can make loops and bigger loops.”

There will be several access points to the trails as well, so visitors can hop on them from the entrance to the park or near the campgrounds.

Most of the 20 miles of earthy trails have already been cut out, but they are still being cleaned up and marked, and bridges have to be built on both trails in a few places.

“We have a lot of streams and rivers and such back on this property,” he said. “So there are quite a few bridges that will have to be built both on the equestrian side and the hiking side.”

Emery said they hope to open in the mid to late spring, and the park will have a grand opening celebration when they do.

An exact date of completion is hard to nail down, he said, because of weather.

“Whenever we get a lot of rain or any of that kind of stuff, it slows them down,” he said. “Not only because it’s not fun to work in the rain, but having their equipment on the trails when it’s raining or recently rained, they can actually do more harm than good.”

Other details are still being nailed down as well, including costs and protocols to use the equestrian trails.

Most state parks charge about a $10 fee to ride horse trails. Emery said Don Carter State Park will probably install a similar fee, though it has not been determined yet. Visitors who wish to hike need only pay the $5 parking fee.

The park also features a visitor center, camping, fishing, picnicking, playgrounds, hiking, beach and trails, and eight rental cabins with rocking-chair porches and fully equipped kitchens.

But Emery said he thinks the two new trails will offer something for everyone.

“I think this is going to add a lot to the community,” Emery said. “There are places in Hall County that have trails, but not to this extent or this number of miles, and certainly not in North Hall County. There’s nothing like this around.”

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