Just Say Yes to the American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail is a one of those fascinating examples of the love/hate relationship North Carolina has with the tobacco industry. Okay, yes, everyone knows smoking gives you cancer, emphysema, and like a thousand other gory ways to die. However, as a major tobacco producing state, (with probably some of the best soil for growing tobacco available in the US), North Carolina has an entertaining tendency to overlook the aforementioned facts because many people here do or historically did make a living producing a commodity that helps keep Social Security afloat by killing lots of people off at a younger age.

Though there’s really only one question in regards to tobacco I often ponder: Can goats eat tobacco plants, and if so, do they ever dream of being the Marlboro Man?

Location: The end, (or in this case the beginning), of the American Tobacco Trail in New Hill, North Carolina.

Is it goat approved? Yep. They let horses and dogs on the trail, so you are good to go, (if you really think the goat will make it), for all 22+ miles of this trail. The whole trail is not open to horses, so while you can be lazy about picking up after the goat on horse allowed sections, once you’re out of horse country you might want a plastic bag!

How you get there: I recommend starting from the southern terminus of the trail in New Hill due to lower volume of people and a nice large parking lot. To get to this trail head, get on Hwy. 1. You want to get off on Exit 89 and head northwest on New Hill Holleman Road. Cross over Old Highway 1 and the road will be renamed New Hill Olive Chapel Road, (random name changes like this are a North Carolina thing). Go down this road several miles and you will see a blue sign on the right hand side that says “American Tobacco Trail”. This is the parking lot. It usually opens at 8 a.m., but you can park outside the gate. Has some very nicely designed and maintained pit toliets on site.

Time for hike: Somewhere out there is a person who owns a goat who can do 44+ miles in a day. I am not that person, (but would love to breed my stock to said goat!). Otherwise, I like to do at least 4.4 miles round trip, but have done up to 15 mile round trips. This is definitely an out and back hike unless you have a partner to do a shuttle hike with. 

Best season to do this hike: All seasons but summer due to heat.

Trails to Take

Mileage counter for the American Tobacco Trail.

Start off in the parking lot and the trail goes down hill off in a corner of the lot. The trail is all gravel, and runs almost entirely on an old rail bed. It is therefore what they call a “rail trail” and what I call “a flat boring hike whose only real challenge is how stinking long it is”.

The trail makes 2 sharp turns,goes up a hill, then continues along a never ending flat straightaway.  In the first part of the trail there are walk throughs in the fence to access the game lands. When not in hunting season, (duck and deer are the big ones), this can be an easy way to get a troublesome goat off the trail and let it go off leash for a bit.

Wildlife Management Area swamp

Continuing down the trail takes you across a pretty sweet bridge with nice views of the surrounding swamp land, which during certain times of the year has some picturesque waterfowl hanging out on it. The trail then crosses a road, crosses another bridge, and goes into an area prone to flying golf balls for a few hundred feet, (this is near a golfing range). The most fun obstacle on the trail though is the tunnel under the highway.

Typical trail surface is a smooth gravel most of the way

The tunnel under the highway is great. When it’s raining, its the only dry place to hang out on the southern end of the trail. When it’s not raining its still fun to watch the goats get worried every time a car passes loudly overhead. The only real trick is to make sure you don’t enter the tunnel with horse(s) as the slick cement surface, combined with the nervous nature of a horse in a tunnel, can be traumatic.

The trail goes on past the tunnel for a long, long way. If you enjoy pine plantations, it is best to visit in the morning when the sunlight streams through the trees. If you don’t like walking with lots of people go in a downpour. In general, this is the trail to enjoy when you don’t want to drive a long way to somewhere more rugged, or if you are still in traction from your last insane trek this place is great because it has benches every once and a while where you can surreptitiously take a breather.

Be Warned!

  1. The Durham end of the trail is in, duh, Durham. For those unfamiliar with Durham, it is not a nice place to visit in certain areas, some of which this trail runs through. I’m not saying you’re going to get mugged, but I am suggesting that a goat is not much protection against those sorts of things.
  2. The whole trail is not open to horses, so if you walk northern sections of the trail you will be required to pick up goat waste most likely.
  3. The trail enters into Wake County, which can charge you with a misdemeanor if your goat is off leash and someone feels like writing you a citation. The southern terminus is not in Wake County.
  4. As you go north on the trail you will encounter more and more people.
  5. Watch out for seasonal signage indicating race dates along the edge of the trail. The trail is home to a couple of marathon-esque competitions, and those are not days to visit.
  6. Hunting occurs for ducks, deer, and other game on game lands adjoining the trail.
  7. Small trails leading off the rail trail go onto private property, (as does the section of the rail line that isn’t a rail trail). This is gun country and bullet holes are not in  fashion so it may be best to avoid these.
  8. There are not many convenient water points for goats on this hike.

In Sum: Say no to cigarettes, but absolutely yes to this trail!


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