Flat Top Tower – Moses Cone Memorial Park, NC

 

Grandfather Mountain from the large meadow

Grandfather Mountain from the large meadow

As I passed through the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway a cold gust of wind hit me in the face chilling me to the bone. At this moment I realized I was woefully unprepared for this hike, the weather conditions were much more brutal than I remembered from the NOAA forecast. Initially I wasn’t planning on this hike in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park to Flat Top Tower, but as I was driving towards the mountains the sky was crystal clear and snow blanketed the high peaks. It was late March, I did not expect the snow but I welcomed it. The views would be spectacular anywhere I went, but I chose to forego my initial plan of chasing waterfalls and head for a hike with far-reaching views. Scrambling to put on gloves to get some feeling back in my hands while draping on anything I had in my pack: mid-layer fleece, beanie, neck gaiter, sunglasses, and rain jacket – I wondered why I always choose new destinations on a whim.

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Five Peaks Loop – Hanging Rock State Park, NC

 

Northwest view from Moore's Knob

Northwest view from Moore’s Knob

One of my favorite hikes in North Carolina is the Five Peaks Loop which takes you on the grand tour of Hanging Rock State Park. If I have friends who want advice on a good day hike not too far from the Triangle, usually this is my first suggestion. Hanging Rock State Park encompasses the bulk of the Sauratown Mountains – a small, ancient range running east-west in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Although the tallest of the Sauratown Mountains, Moore’s Knob, only reaches 2,579 feet these mountains rise over 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside. This hike is nicknamed the Five Peaks Loop because it crosses all five named rocks and mountains with fantastic views in the central district of the park. Starting from the visitor center, you can take this hike clockwise or counterclockwise. I chose to head to Hanging Rock first, the most popular view in the park. From there the trail heads west towards Wolf Rock and then a short out-and-back to House Rock and Cook’s Wall. The loop continues north ascending steeply up Huckleberry Ridge to the phenomenal views from the Moore’s Knob observation tower, before the finish wrapping around Hanging Rock Lake on your return to the visitor center.

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Buckquarter Creek and Holden Mill – Eno River State Park, NC

 

Eno River beside Holden Mill Trail

Eno River beside Holden Mill Trail

It was one of those days I did not feel like waking up early and driving a few hours to hike. Sometimes it is too much effort to get up on the weekend and drive 3 hours each way. My days usually come to 12+ hours with the hike and drive. It is difficult to do it every week without backpacking or changing my schedule entirely. I slept in and spent the early afternoon watching soccer and writing but the day was too nice outside to ignore. Located just outside of Durham, Eno River State Park is arguably the top outdoor destination in the Triangle. It boasts 3 sections with 28 miles of hiking trails along Eno River in the rugged foothills of the Piedmont. I’ve been to Eno many times throughout the years but primarily for short strolls along the river to see the power of the water after a large rain event. It does offer a lot of trails and my favorite section has always been in the West district along the river on the Buckquarter Creek and Holden Mill loop trails. My plan in the waning afternoon light was to tackle these loops and add the short out-and-back to Holden Mill and also the Ridge-Shakori loop. This hike samples some of the best trails Eno River State Park has to offer and provides a good half-day excursion conveniently located within the Triangle.

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Stone Mountain and Wolf Rock – Stone Mountain State Park, NC

 

Stone Mountain view from Cedar Rock

Stone Mountain view from Cedar Rock

I was raring to go on a hike this Sunday but the weather and my sleep patterns were not cooperating. Most of the mountains were cloudy with a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Instead of my planned Linville Gorge hike I went to Stone Mountain State Park because of its convenience and its views are still abundant regardless of weather. I have hiked here multiple times, but wanted to get a GPS track of the big loop for Hiking Upward. My plan was to see all the sites in the main portion of the park by taking the Stone Mountain Loop and visiting Wolf Rock and Lower Falls as well. This is arguably the best loop offered in any state park in North Carolina because of all the rock summits and waterfalls

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Basin Creek to Caudill Cabin – Doughton Park, NC

 

Caudill Cabin

Caudill Cabin

If you’re looking for a hike with few people, history, water, and more water, then the Basin Creek Trail is a perfect fit. I’ve been saving this trail for a rainy day. Although I’ve been to Doughton Park multiple times, never have I ventured into the remote watershed of Basin Creek. Since it is a creek hike, I assumed there would be no views and it would be best to try when it is cloudy. The weather forecast called for 60% chance of thunderstorms, I drove to the trail head anyways. It was cloudy and sometimes misty, but it never rained and was cooler than a typical June day. The Basin Creek Trail is the only trail from Longbottom Road that does not climb to the ridge. Instead, the trail follows Basin Creek all the way upstream to its origin while passing by remnants of the Basin Cove community that was wiped away by a flood in 1916. At 11 miles round trip the trail isn’t difficult but requires many stream crossings. The trail ends at the Caudill Cabin in a clearing that is visible 900+ feet below from the Wildcat Rocks Overlook. This cabin is the only house that was not destroyed by a great flood in 1916.

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