As the months get cooler, my family is less likely to hit the Western North Carolina mountains where temperatures can be 10 degrees chillier than in the Upstate. One great spot close to home is Paris Mountain State Park.

“Winter is a good time for some of our longer hikes, since it isn’t as hot, and you can see farther without the leaves blocking some great views,” said Cathy Taylor, interpretive ranger.

Paris Mountain is a favorite for our family. Although there is a playground, usually we skip it because we enjoy the lake so much. Lots of times, they’re happy just playing with sticks in the dirt! Also, because I have girls, a favorite woodland game in our family is to search for “fairy clues” – like nooks and crannies in trees where they imagine fairies might live.

The huge wooden bridge with stone pillars is a cool architectural feature, and my kids love to pretend there’s a troll at any bridge in the woods. (And of course, the only way to scare away a nasty troll is to jump up and down on his bridge and yell. In addition to their services as troll exterminators, my children provide entertainment for other park visitors.)

In fall, the leaves are amazing, and the reflection off the lake is stunning. In spring, the lakeside teems with tadpoles. In early winter, my kids are pretty happy just kicking around piles of leaves.

My husband and I love that we can sit on a bench by the lake, enjoy the view, watch the kids run around and actually have an uninterrupted conversation. It’s almost like a sneaky date because the kids are too busy enjoying nature to pay attention to us.

If you’re planning a trip, be sure to check their website to see if there are any upcoming ranger programs. The link is

The lake trail is only .75 miles. It is flat with few obstacles. It isn’t paved, so I’d leave the stroller at home, but it’s not a problem for an able-bodied person. On elementary school field trips, I’ve never seen any second graders get too tired. To me, it’s the outdoor experience of a hike with the exertion of a leisurely stroll.

In addition to the natural beauty of the park, the architecture here is special. The park’s stone and wood picnic shelters are beautiful. One of my favorite features is the wood bridge with stacked stone pillars. Many structures in the park date back to the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps was implemented as part of the New Deal. Those structures, plus lakes and dams built by the Paris Mountain Water Company, qualify the park as a historic district on the National Register.

Geocaching is another activity at Paris Mountain, an activity I discovered when my daughters’ Brownie troop worked on their geocaching badge. Geocaching is like a treasure hunt: someone buries an item in a water-tight container, and other people use GPS coordinates to find it. Once discovered, a log book allows the finders to leave their mark (the Brownies made a custom stamp) before putting the geocache back in its hiding place. The park has about seven geocaches, Taylor said. Check to research more.

For families embarking on a first camping trip, Paris Mountain is a great spot to try a dry run. The Ingles at Cherrydale is nearby, and CVS is even closer should you need supplies during your stay. Even though the first camping trip isn’t likely to be a total bust, there is something reassuring about knowing the drive home isn’t too far! A two-night reservation is required.

Here are some seasonal notes to keep in mind.

Winter: Watch the forecast! Although the park is just a few minutes from downtown, weather conditions at the park can be completely different in winter! In the event of snow warnings, the City may not see a flurry, but Paris Mountain can become dangerously slippery.

Spring: Watch the lakeside teem with tadpoles! Fun!

Summer: Canoeing and kayaking are offered, although private boats are not allowed. Rentals are not available after August. Swimming is another park activity – in fact, I swam at Paris Mountain when I was a child. If planning a swimming trip in summer, call first as swimming may be cancelled due to weather.

Fall: Music in the Woods is a family-friendly, alcohol-free event that runs in September and October.

Upcoming winter programs

Nov. 18: “Animal Signs Scavenger Hunt”

Look around Lake Placid for animal tracks and beaver tooth marks. $7 per person, park admission waived. Registration is required. To register, email or call the park office at 864-244-5565.

Jan. 1: “First Day” Hike

The American Hiking Society encourages hikes in all 50 states on the first of January. These guided hikes are offered to get kids and adults outside to enjoy the great outdoors. Fee is included in park admission.

Jan. 27: Ranger-Led Hike

Got other plans for New Year’s Day? No problem. This similar hike offers many of the features of the Jan. 1 hike. To register, email or call the park office at 864-244-5565. The fee is $7 per person, in lieu of admission.

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