Patrick Flynn, former supervisor of the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, MA, was thinking ahead of his time. In order to get more people to spend time outdoors and come to Massachusetts State Parks in the winter, he set out to create a local initiative: First Day Hikes. On January 1, 1992, Patrick hosted 380 people at Massachusetts’ Blue Hills Reservation to open the new year with a guided hike. As years followed, the tradition stuck and was adopted by many state parks across the country. On January 1, 2012, 400 First Day Hikes were held across the country at America’s state parks. The initiative even became an international phenomenon in 2018 with Canada’s Ontario Parks’ participation. Although Patrick passed away in 2016, his legacy lives on. First Day Hikes have been around ever since (source).

Today, there’s no need for convincing Americans to go to the park. If there’s anything that 2020 has taught us, it’s that a daily walk or a respite in nature is essential for personal well-being. With 2021 arriving in mere hours, there’s no better way to kick off the new year than with some fresh air, some extra steps, and time to enjoy what state parks across the country have to offer. Get ready to ring in the new year! Here are four unique First Day Hikes that are scenic, peaceful and safe for your New Year’s Day celebration.

4 First Day Hikes to Take

SB Note: While we are spotlighting four First Day Hikes that piqued our interest, we hope they inspire you to find one close to you, no matter where you call home. See hundreds of options at stateparks.org.

First Day Hikes Map

Look at all the state parks offering special First Day hikes! And, as a southern publication, we were happy to see a majority of these are found in the south. Whether you live in Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Little Rock, Richmond or … you get the picture. Get outside and enjoy! See the hundreds of opportunities HERE.

Hike #1: Burgess Falls State Park

4000 Burgess Falls Dr., Sparta, TN 38583 • (931) 432-5312

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to exercise while surrounded by waterfalls, this is the First Day Hike for you! Located on Falling Water River, Burgess Falls State Park offers a 1.5-mile hike with grand views of four waterfalls that cascade over 250 feet. Perfect for the presence of mood-boosting endorphins, this hike has frequent elevation changes and is moderately strenuous. Park Ranger Hannah Morgan will meet participants at 9 a.m. in the lower main parking lot ahead of the trail, and the hike is projected to last until 10:30 a.m. The hike requires advance registration and is free of charge, but donations are encouraged. For more information and to register, click HERE.

Tennessee State Parks also encourage people to go on a self-guided hike anytime between January 1-7. To participate, you can register online and log your miles between those dates.

Burgess Falls, a Tennessee first day hike location

Celebrate the start of 2021 surrounded by forest views and waterfalls at Burgess Falls State Park. Image: Tennessee State Parks

RELATED: 5 Southern Winter Hikes to Take This Year

Hike #2: King’s Chair at Oak Mountain State Park

200 Terrace Dr., Pelham, AL 35124 • (205) 620-2520

Say good riddance to 2020 by taking this incredible pre-sunrise hike to King’s Chair at Alabama’s Oak Mountain State Park. With the hike beginning at 5 a.m., and park-goers expected to meet at the North Trailhead at 4:45 a.m., this radiant hike is perfect for those looking for a bright and early start to 2021. All ages are welcome, but note that this hike is more advanced. The hike is anticipated to end around 8 a.m., which gives plenty of extra time in the morning for a nice celebratory breakfast … or a little nap. The hike itself is free, but gate fees are $5 for adults and $2 for children (ages 4-11) and seniors (ages 62 and up). For more information about the hike, click HERE.

View from King’s Chair at Oak Mountain State Park

Get a bright and early start to the new year by hiking to King’s Chair at Oak Mountain State Park. Image: Linda Cato Wurstner

Hike #3: George L. Smith State Park

371 George L Smith State Park Rd., Twin City, GA 30471 • (478) 763-2759

There’s nothing better than a simple nature walk as a way to relax, move your body and step away from the high-tech world in which we live. George L. Smith State Park offers a First Day Hike that is basic yet inviting. The best part? You can bring your furry friend too, though they must be kept on a leash. The 3-mile hike takes place on the nature trail behind the Mill House. It goes from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The event itself is free, but parking costs $5. For more information, click HERE.

Since Georgia State Parks are practicing social distancing, all events require advance registration. If any ranger-led hikes are full, the parks encourage visitors to conduct their own First Day Hike on the first of the year.

George L. Smith State Park, a Georgia first day hike location

Grab your four-legged friend and head to George L. Smith State Park for a 3-mile First Day Hike. Image: Georgia State Parks

RELATED: Virtual Vacation: Travel to Georgia

Hike #4: Lovers Key State Park

8700 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931 • (239) 463-4588

A First Day Hike surrounded by untouched beaches? Sign us up! Although it was previously meant to be used for luxury hospitality, Lovers Key State Park was donated to the people of Florida. Now, its secluded beaches and small forests are preserved and able to be enjoyed by all. In honor of the new year, Lovers Key State Park offers a sea-breezy hike with bird watching and a local history lesson. The hike takes place on the Black Island Trail, which stretches about 2.5 miles. The First Day Hike at Lovers Key State Park is one of many available guided hikes and is scheduled for 10 a.m. EST on January 1, 2021. Reservations are required and can be made by calling the park at (239) 463-4588. Park entry fees may apply.

Lovers Key State Park in Florida

What better way to kick off the new year than with an ocean-side hike!? Image: Florida State Parks

Looking for more? See a full list of state parks offering First Day Hikes at stateparks.org.

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