Johnny Molloy, author of Hiking North Carolina’s National Forests: 50 Can’t-Miss Trail Adventures in the Pisgah, Nantahala, Uwharrie, and Croatan National Forests, discusses his hiking experiences and gives some advice for hikers
Q: You’ve been known to say that “The wilderness is my office,” and have over 50 books focusing on hiking and outdoor adventures to your credit. What started you on this path?
A: I was lucky enough to go to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, which is next door to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I met an avid hiker in college; he took me one time, and I was hooked on the outdoors.
Q: How has your approach to guidebook writing and your style evolved over the years?
A: If it is possible, I take my job more seriously than ever, yet try to make sure to have fun doing it. In everything I do I keep the reader in mind and want to have them make the most of their precious time after they had spent some of their precious money purchasing my guidebooks. After writing over 50 books I have improved both the product and my efficiency. Working with acquisitions personnel and editors as well as input from readers has allowed me to pinpoint exactly what guidebook readers are after.
Q: Many hikers set forth on trails without knowing what lies ahead. What do you think of this approach?
A: There is a certain romance to not knowing what’s around the corner, and certainly some adventure there as well. However, most people these days are very busy and when they have the opportunity to get out on a hike they want to make the most of their precious time. That is where this book comes into play. I will steer you on a suitable hike, get you to the trailhead, and let you know what lies ahead. That way, there will be no bad surprises and you can relax and enjoy the natural beauty around you without worrying about finding the trailhead, getting lost on the trail, or other issues.
Q: This book focuses on hiking in the four North Carolina national forests: Croatan, Nantahala, Pisgah, and Uwharrie. Could you tell us a little more about each national forest, and how they are similar and different?
A: North Carolina’s national forests cover three distinct parts of the state—the mountains, the Piedmont, and the coastal plain. The Nantahala and Pisgah cover the Western mountain area and are more alike than not. They simply are located in different areas of the mountains. The Pisgah is in the northwest part of North Carolina and contains some of the highest terrain in the state, while the Nantahala covers primarily southwestern mountains. These mountains are divided by a vein-like network of streams. Elevations range from just over 1000 feet to over 6600 feet, resulting in a wide variety of plant and animal life.
The Uwharrie National Forest is located in the Piedmont. It does offer hilly terrain but elevation changes are much less than in the Appalachian range. Covering a mix of creeks, lakes, and woodlands, the Uwharrie protects an increasingly developed part of the state. Interestingly, fewer areas in the Piedmont are protected lands.The same goes for the Croatan National Forest. Much of this coastal plain area is either farmland or being developed, and having the wildlands of the Croatan ensures future generations that the ecosystem’s of the coastal plain will be preserved. This area includes tidal streams, coastal maritime woodlands, and interior pinelands.
Q: What makes the trails in national forests special, and what, specifically, makes hiking in North Carolina different?
A: North Carolina’s national forests present a wide range of hiking opportunities from well marked and maintained nature trails to primitive wilderness tracks that can barely be discerned. And that is the beauty of hiking and North Carolina—you can trek along remote mountaintops, along quiet secluded streams, or deep in evergreen forests, where not only do you have a variety of landscapes through which to walk but you also have a wide variety of trail conditions that suit the needs of hikers from the novice to an experienced professional.
Q: You offer a variety of hike levels, such as moderate, difficult, and easy, so all hikers can find appropriate options. How did you categorize each trail?
A: After spending 30 years hiking and writing over two dozen hiking guidebooks, I have developed an innate sense of judging hike difficulties. It is simply a matter of hiking thousands of trails and comparing them all to one another to come up with a difficulty rating. In the book I sought to include hikes of all difficulties in order to appeal to the widest range of trail enthusiasts.
Q: You document fifty trails in Hiking North Carolina. Did you personally hike all of them?
A: Yes, I hiked all fifty plus many more in the course of working on the book. The reason I write is so I can do what I love. I love to hike and over the course of three decades I have walked many a mile throughout the Tar Heel State. So I consider it a privilege to have spent as much time hiking in North Carolina’s national forest as I have. I tried to put that experience to good use in choosing the hikes, hiking the hikes, making maps, taking photographs, and writing about the hikes.
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