How many parks have you been to?
We’re done! We finished our last state park on October 13, 2019. It took nine months and twelve days to complete the challenge. We averaged between 3-6 parks per month.
Would you recommend the state park challenge to other families?
Absolutely!! We loved the challenge and made some incredible memories. It pushed us to get outdoors, to be active, to spend time together as a family, to work hard toward a goal, and to celebrate our achievements. It gave us the chance to learn more about our state, to recognize the beauty and diversity of North Carolina, and to appreciate G-d’s creation!
If the “365 day challenge” sounds overwhelming, consider picking up a state passport book next time you’re at a local state park, and getting a few stamps in it. You may get hooked! Knowing where all the state parks are has made it easy to stop and stretch, or picnic, on our way out of state.
What gave you the idea to do the state park challenge?
I don’t even remember how I came across it! December 2018 I randomly found the NC Parks website and I was fascinated by the gorgeous pictures and descriptions of each place. I suggested to Greg that we start visiting some of these places during 2019. He was a little hesitant, but when I found out there was a one-year challenge, I printed off all the fact sheets and convinced him that we could do it! We were so excited to start the challenge that we got up early on January 1 and went to a First Day Hike at Haw River State Park.
Why didn’t you go to more park programs?
We love the different programs offered by park rangers, and we attend them whenever we can. Some require pre-registration, which can be tricky when we’re not sure where we’ll be going on a particular day (park daytrips are completely weather dependent). We also don’t have a lot of flexibility for what time we’ll be available, and many programs are scheduled for weekdays or Saturdays. In the first quarter of 2019, we participated in two programs: a “first day hike” (January 1!) at Haw River State Park, and a tour of the Rockefeller home at Carver’s Creek State Park.
Why don’t you hike on Saturday?
As Torah-keepers, we observe a Biblically-ordained rest on the seventh day. Our Shabbat observance includes not traveling and not engaging in commerce, so state park trips are always on Sundays or weekdays.
Can we go with you?
Sure! When we originally made our state park goal, we were hoping to have friends and family join us frequently, but we didn’t really consider that the distances would be a big factor. Charlotte is not the most central point in NC (it would be easier to travel back and forth from Raleigh), so the average park is at least 2.5hrs away. Only a handful are under 2hrs. We have gotten into a good routine of taking 12+ hour daytrips, but it’s definitely not for everyone. That said, shoot me an email if you’d like to meet us at a park!
Are you visiting all the state parks in order?
Kind of. We have them ordered seasonally, which has proved to be the best method so far. North Carolina is divided into three regions – mountains, piedmont, and coastal plain. The coastal plain is primarily beaches and oceanfront parks, while the piedmont has many lakes with swimming accesses. Since we started our family goal in January, it made sense to start with the mountain region and save the other areas for warmer weather. Our park spreadsheet has a general order, not a specific one, because keeping up a good pace means having options where the weather is good on a particular day.
Note: email me if you’d like a copy of this spreadsheet!
How much did it cost to visit all the state parks?
Aside from several tanks of gas, our cost was $246! This covered the $7 admission to several recreation areas, swimming fees whenever there were lifeguards on duty, and canoe rentals, as well as the steep fees to enter private attractions at Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock. It’s possible to get around most of these costs, if you wanted to – both of the costly parks have a free trail access if you simply want to hike and get a passport stamp. Swimming fees can be avoided by going before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.
The farthest state park from our home in Charlotte is six hours away (Jockey’s Ridge in Nag’s Head, OBX). While it’s technically possible to get there and back in a day, we chose to take a family vacation to the Outer Banks and spend two nights there. A free option would have been simply camping on the beach! We got an Airbnb and counted it as part of our vacation costs for the year rather than our state park costs, since it wasn’t necessary for the challenge.
What’s your favorite park?
Greg’s favorites are South Mountain State Park and Merchants Millpond State Park; mine is Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. Sophia and Zoe both enjoyed Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock (ironic since those were the two most expensive!). It’s all a blur to Aaron Henry and Eva.
How far can the berries hike? What was your furthest hike?
Their sweet spot is probably right around a mile, but we’ve gone as far as 5 miles in a day.