Bailey’s Mountain Preserve, Exit 11, 889 Forest St., Mars Hill, NC
Ten or so minutes off the highway if you find it the first time. 5 mile trail, straight up for 2.5, down for the other 2.5 with some off shoots we didn’t do. Of course, this the Ashville area so you can find a hike just about anywhere.
Free. No more than 10 minutes off the highway. Gas stations, grocery, restaurants. Truth be told I didn't get to hike much more than a mile, but these trails combine for over 1000 miles, so you should be able to get your steps in. And Elkin is a great little town. Plus there is this nifty mural: