OrthoCarolina's Darren Harris: Hiking is a Family Affair

Harris says acclimating kids to the outdoors from the beginning is the key to instilling a desire to explore.
Harris says acclimating kids to the outdoors from the beginning is the key to instilling a desire to explore. Darren Harris
Made Possible by
Curated by

This content is sponsored by OrthoCarolina.

Darren Harris, the Practice Administrator at OrthoCarolina’s Hickory, North Carolina office, and his family have an interesting holiday tradition. Each year Mom, Dad, and the three girls (age 9, 10, and 13) gather together to create their New Year’s resolutions. What’s interesting isn’t that they do this, although getting a family of five to sit down during the busy holidays every year is a substantial feat. It’s the contents of the list that make the ritual a bit unusual.

One line item on the list, which lives on the front of the refrigerator as constant reminder of the year’s goals, details a 15-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. The Harris’ will hike this portion of the long distance trail together. The goal is to eventually walk, piece by piece, the entire 2,200-mile trail from Georgia to Maine.

It seems somewhat unusual, in an age of near constant digital connection and a thousand distractions a day, that a young family with three young girls are so enthralled with spending time in places where even the best cell signal does not penetrate. The key, according to Darren Harris, is to introduce kids to outdoor experiences at an early age.

"When we had our first child," he recalls, “we actually had the pack a play—the portable crib—inside our tent. We’ve always taken them camping and they don’t know any different”.

Whether it’s a kayak or a SUP, each member of the Harris family paddles their own craft.
    Darren Harris
Whether it’s a kayak or a SUP, each member of the Harris family paddles their own craft. Darren Harris

For the patriarch of the Harris brood, this love for the outdoors is in his blood. Born and raised in southeast Missouri, Harris spent his youth exploring trails on horseback, sleeping in tents, and floating down iconic Midwestern rivers in a canoe.

Now, the three young Harris girls are growing into great explorers. "They’re busybodies, they’re tree climbers, they take hikes by themselves," Darren says of his kids. But life in the wild isn’t without its challenges.

"Bathrooms," he explains. “I think that’s still our biggest challenge. Even though they don’t mind roughing it and camping in tents, they still want their privacy.”

Harris and company now live in Hickory, North Carolina, with a lake in their neighborhood and just down the road from some of the Southeast’s premier outdoor playgrounds. And that suits him just fine.

"I want to give them the same environment I had. That’s what draws us to North Carolina."

While they explore plenty of trails and waterways across the state, the Harris’ have their favorites. Here are a couple spots they return to often.

Linville Gorge

Camping at Linville Gorge of North Carolina has been a more recent addition to the Harris Family adventure list. Located in Pisgah National Forest, The "Grand Canyon of North Carolina" is an amazing destination for all sorts of exploration. The 12-mile long chasm created by the Linville River drops some 2,000 feet from its ridges. Large rocky outcroppings provide treeless viewing platforms, making it possible to take in the entire gorge on one panoramic view.

There are a few ways to enjoy a day in the gorge. On the eastern ridge, the Mountains to Sea Trail forms the north/south backbone. From the MST you can connect to paths that drop down into the steep-sided gorge. On thewestern edge is the Kistler Memorial Highway, a rough dirt road that serves as the north/south anchor. Trails on the western side are very rugged and several non-marked paths can confuse first time visitors. Finally, for a gentler introduction to the gorge, the multi-tiered Linville Falls can be accessed by a moderate trail in the northern tip of the gorge.

Reaching the falls at the bottom of Linville Gorge in winter can be treacherous, but the multi-level cascades are worth the effort any time of year.
    Steve Basset
Reaching the falls at the bottom of Linville Gorge in winter can be treacherous, but the multi-level cascades are worth the effort any time of year. Steve Basset

Lake Hickory

Each Harris has their own kayak or stand up paddle board, so quick trips to Lake Hickory are frequent. There are five public boat launches on the 4,223 acre lake. If you have your own craft, the Harris’ recommend launching at Gunpowder Creek Public Access Area. If not, you can rent a SUP or ‘yak at Rivers Edge Marina.

While Lake Hickory is narrow and can be quite busy with boat traffic, it is possible to find some solitude here. Try early mornings for a more quiet escape and to see wildlife. Also, paddling your boat into the creeks that feed the lake will keep you well away from motorized boats not able to navigate the tight, shallow spaces.

And if you see the Harris crew out there, be sure to say hello!

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

Last Updated:

Next Up

Previous

7 of the Best Adventure Towns In Alabama