Location:Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (195 miles – 3 hours and 4 min) Charlotte (98 miles – 1 hour and 47 min) Asheville (81 miles – 1 hour and 37 min) Trail Access:After crossing U.S. 321 exit to Blowing Rock continue driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway for 2.1 mi. Turn left at the sign for the Cone Manor parking area. Flat Top Rd begins below the parking area to the left of the manor – where free maps are available. Click here for informationon Moses Cone Memorial ParkHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Flat Top RoadHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 584 feetHike Distance:~5.3 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes Date of Hike: 03-28-15, Saturday at 11:50 AMTrail Condition: Excellent — This is an excellent trail, which is actually a paved road most of the time Hike Difficulty:Easy — You will follow a mostly flat paved or gravel road. I’m not listing it as incredibly easy because of the total length Isolation:Average — I passed at least 10 people on this snowy, windy day. During the summer this trail is likely crowded at least until the large meadow Highlights:Easy trail, beautiful views from the meadow, panoramas from the fire tower Lowlights:Cone Cemetery was guarded by a huge fence which took away from the overall sceneryGoogle+ photo album link
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.
Location:Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury, NC Distance from Hubs:Raleigh (124 miles – 2 hours and 14 minutes) Charlotte (110 miles – 1 hour and 55 minutes) Asheville (172 miles – 2 hours and 52 minutes)Trail Access:Follow NC-89 north from U.S. 311 for 10.3-mi passing through Danbury then take a left onto Hanging Rock Park Rd. Park at the visitor center parking lot – Hanging Rock Trail begins on the far left side. Free trail maps and restrooms are available at the visitor center. If you want to take this loop counterclockwise follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the parking lot entrance towards the lake. Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails: Hanging Rock Trail – Wolf Rock Trail – Cook’s Wall Trail – Magnolia Springs Trail – Moore’s Wall Loop Trail – Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Configuration:Loop with 2 out-and-back sections Elevation Gain:2,076 feet Hike Distance:~10.1 miles Hiking Time:5 hours Date of Hike: 01-19-15, Monday at 11:20 AMTrail Condition:Very Good — The state park trails are in excellent condition and the least used sections are still well-worn dirt pathsHike Difficulty: Moderate — Although it is 10 miles the grades are easy to moderate and there are only a couple of extended climbs that will be tough for the casual hikerIsolation: Low — Hanging Rock and Moore’s Knob are very popular destinations while the other peaks are visited less often Highlights:Outstanding views from all 5 peaks, 360º views from Moore’s Knob, nice fishing pier in the lake Lowlights:The crowds at Hanging Rock and Moore’s Knob somewhat marred the scenery, it is tough to get pictures in these spots without strangers on the rocks Google+ photo album link
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.
Location:Eno River State Park, Durham, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (15.4 miles – 25 min) Raleigh (34.8 miles – 40 min) Park Access:Off exit 170 on I-85 take a right on US-70 and the first immediate right on Pleasant Green Rd. Follow the road north for 2.2-mi then take a left onto Cole Mill Rd. In 0.9-mi you will pass the visitor’s center then a large parking area for Few’s Ford and Piper-Cox House will be on the right. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Few’s Ford access – Buckquarter Creek Trail – Holden Mill Trail – Buckquarter Creek Trail – Ridge Trail – Shakori Trail – Buckquarter Creek Trail – Few’s Ford access Hike Configuration: Triple loop (kind of like a 3-leaf clover) Elevation Gain:750 feetHike Distance:~7.0 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes Date of Hike: 9-21-14, Sunday at 4:10 PMTrail Condition: Excellent — All trails are well maintained and markedHike Difficulty:Moderately easy — This hike is easy but 7 miles raises the difficulty slightly Isolation: Below average — This is a popular state park beside Durham, lots of casual hikers check out the trails beside the Eno River Highlights:Many rocky spots along Eno River, remnants of Holden Mill, two 19th century cabins Lowlights:Lack of solitude near river, no sights on the long Ridge-Shakori loop Google+ photo album link
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.
Location:Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (138 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Durham (141 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Raleigh (164 miles – 2 hr 37 min) Park Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 4.4-mi, turn right on John P. Frank Parkway and follow the road into the park for 3.3-mi. Turn left into the upper parking lot. Trail head begins on the left side of the bathrooms. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Wolf Rock Trail – Cedar Rock Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Middle/Lower Falls Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail Hike Configuration: Double loop with one out-and-back Elevation Gain:1,550 feetTrail Condition: Excellent — all trails are gravel or well maintained dirt paths Hike Distance:~9.0 miles Hiking Time: 4.25 hours Date of Hike: 7-20-14, Sunday at 1:00 PMHike Difficulty:Moderate — There are only a few steep sections with lots of flat hiking in between Significant Stream Crossings:2 big rock hops along Lower Falls TrailIsolation: None — This is a very popular state park. The waterfalls, homestead, and Stone Mountain were crowded Highlights:Stone Mountain, Wolf Rock isolation, Cedar Rock, views from Hutchinson Homestead, Lower Falls and Stone Mountain Falls Lowlights:Droves of people around Hutchinson Homestead and Stone Mountain Falls, Middle Falls had no apparent access for views Google+ photo album link
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
Location:Doughton Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (144 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Durham (147 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Raleigh (170 miles – 2 hr 47 min) Trail Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 5.2-mi, turn right on Longbottom Rd for 8.1-mi and gravel parking on left just before bridge over Basin Creek. Trail head begins across the bridge on the left of Basin CreekPark information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Grassy Gap Fire Road – Basin Creek Trail Hike Configuration: Out and back Trail Condition: Good — All trails were well graded and not rocky, mostly single file paths Hike Distance:~11.0 miles Elevation Gain:1,815 feet Hiking Time:5.5 hours Date of Hike: 6-29-14, Sunday at 1:00 PMHike Difficulty:Moderate — No significant uphill sections, many tricky creek crossings Significant Stream Crossings:15 or less depending on the water levelsIsolation: High — I passed one group of campers. The only other hikers on the trail I ended up hiking with the whole way Highlights:Beautiful mountain streams, historical remnants, small picturesque waterfall, Caudill Cabin Lowlights:Many creek crossings slow you down, no obvious path to the first waterfall, lots of stinging nettles Google+ photo album link
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.
Location:Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury, NC Distance from Triangle:Chapel Hill (98 miles – 1 hr 51 min) Durham (101 miles – 1 hr 51 min)Raleigh (124 miles – 2 hr 14 min)Trail Access:Follow NC-89 north from U.S. 311 for 10.3-mi passing through Danbury then take left onto Hanging Rock Park Rd. Drive to the upper parking lot at Hanging Rock Lake. Trail starts to the left of the lake buildings.Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHiking Trails:Moore’s Wall Loop Trail Hike Configuration:Loop Hike Distance:~4.3 miles Hiking Time:3.0 hours Date of Hike: 05-11-12, Friday at 1:00 PMTrail Condition:Very Good — The northern section of the loop trail is mostly new rock steps, the southern section is a typical trail with lots of rocks and rootsHike Difficulty: Moderate — The climb to Moore’s Knob is steep with many steps but overall hike length is short.Isolation: Below Average — I saw many groups of people on the initial climb and at the top, the southern section of the loop is used less frequently Highlights:Rhododendrons blooming, great views of the Sauratown Mountains west from multiple cliff vantage points, great view of Hanging Rock from the fire tower Lowlights:I do not like all the steps state parks install on trails – northern section of the loop is jam-packed with them, the trail going through the campground is confusing and I went down wrong paths at first Google+ photo album link
Moore’s Knob is the highest point in Hanging Rock State Park at 2,579 feet and the tallest mountain in the Sauratown Mountains. The Sauratown Mountains are separate from the Blue Ridge Mountains and are unique because of their location in the Piedmont in close proximity to the Triad metropolitan area. Hanging Rock State Park is the best of the Sauratowns because it offers a multitude of waterfalls, cliffs and rock formations, and mountain and ridge hiking. The park is located less than an hour northwest of Greensboro and north of Winston-Salem. My hike on this day was the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail which starts at Hanging Rock Lake and ascends Moore’s Knob before returning to the lake.