The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources designated 2023 as the Year of the Trail, recognizing not only the abundance of our state’s outdoor pathways — thousands of them, earning NC the nickname “The Great Trail State” — but their staggering variety of topography and natural assets, as well. From the highest mountain peaks east of the Mississippi to pristine coastal “blueways,” from deeply remote wilderness areas to iconic waterfalls accessible by wheelchair, North Carolina’s complex trail network truly does include meaningful experiences for everyone.
The latest development was announced in fall, when the historic Saluda Grade — the steepest mainline railway in the country, operated by Norfolk Southern until 2001— came one giant step closer to becoming the region’s latest Rail Trail, part of a movement to turn defunct railroad corridors into trails for hiking and biking. On October 2, Conserving Carolina revealed the NC state budget’s allocation of $12 million to buy a portion of the Saluda Grade over the next two years, added to the $15 million already secured in South Carolina, to build the Saluda Grade Trail, which will eventually comprise 31 miles across two states.
The corridor’s position on the Blue Ridge Escarpment will ensure a stunning natural vista, as well as charming, small-town urban sections passing through the downtowns of Campobello and Inman, SC, and Tryon and Saluda, NC, terminating in Zirconia. Conserving Carolina calls the envisioned trail a “linear park accessible to people of all abilities.” See saludagradetrail.org for more information.