Location:Pilot Mountain State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (168 miles – 2 hours and 39 min) Charlotte (101 miles – 1 hour and 35 min) Raleigh (125 miles – 2 hours) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:36.34228, -80.46389Trail Access:From Winston-Salem drive north on U.S. 52. Pilot Mountain should be very evident as you get near. Take the exit for Pilot Mountain State Park and turn left onto Pilot Knob Park Rd. Drive 0.6-mi to the visitors center on the right and find a parking spot. The trails are located across the street.Pilot Mountain State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountain Trail – Grindstone Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Jomeokee Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Grindstone TrailHike Distance:~9.3 miles Hike Configuration: Small loop and big loop Elevation Gain: 2,090 feetHiking Time:3 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:12-13-15, Sunday at 2:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — The trails are in great condition. You might find the Ledge Spring Trail to be rocky and steep in places. Hike Difficulty:Moderate — This is an easy, fast-paced hike. The only real climb is on the Grindstone Trail and the Ledge Springs Trail is rocky in places. Isolation:Low — The only solitude you’ll get is on the Mountain Trail. Every trail along the top of the mountain is overcrowded, even during the winter. Highlights:Countless sections along the bottom and tops of cliffs, Jomeokee Trail around Big Pinnacle, outstanding views of Big Pinnacle and the Sauratown Mountains Lowlights:Too many people everywhere!, this is one of the busiest parks in the state, Lack of views on the Mountain and lower Grindstone TrailsGoogle Photos album link
Pilot Mountain is truly one of the iconic summits in North Carolina. The mountain, a monadnock and the westernmost peak of the ancient Sauratown Mountains, dominates the surrounding Piedmont and can be seen from many landmarks. Due to its ease of access directly off freeway U.S. 52 north of Winston-Salem, this state park is popular and is overcrowded during the summer months. Avoid the crowds and hike this park in the offseason when the leaves are down and the temperatures are milder than the Blue Ridge Mountains. A full loop of the mountain can be achieved using the newly extended Mountain Trail, with the addition a result of a fire break during a forest fire in November 2012. From there use the Grindstone Trail, the only trail leading from the base to the summit area. Once you attain the crest you are in cliff heaven as the trails hug the top and bottom of 100+ foot cliffs crawling with rock climbers. The highlights may be the Ledge Spring Trail, Little Pinnacle, or the Jomeokee Trail, it all depends on your preference. For those in a rush or wanting a shorter hike, you can do the shorter 2.7-mile loop from the upper parking lot. This is a great day hike for anyone who lives in the Triad or Triangle metropolitan areas.
Location:Birkhead Mountains Wilderness, Uwharrie National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (80 miles – 1 hour and 32 min) Charlotte (69 miles – 1 hour and 18 min) Greensboro (34 miles – 36 min) Trail Access:From Asheboro follow NC 49 south for 3.1 miles. Turn left onto Tot Hill Farm Rd and in 2.6 miles look for the gravel parking lot on the left tucked in forest between two farms.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Birkhead Mountain Trail – Hannahs Creek Trail – Robbins Branch Trail – Birkhead Mountain TrailHike Distance:~12.0 miles Hike Configuration: Lollipop Elevation Gain: 1,062 feetHiking Time: 5 hours and 10 minutes Date of Hike: 05-30-16, Monday at 12:15 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — For a wilderness these trails were in great condition except for a little erosion near the water drainagesHike Difficulty:Moderate — This hike would be classified easy if it was under 10 miles Isolation:High — For Memorial Day, seeing only two groups of hikers to me meant this is typically an isolated area especially during the winter Highlights:Solitude, gentle trails, huge trees, excellent campsites Lowlights:Trails did not highlight the creeks in this wilderness, no viewsGoogle Photos album link
After a long, tiring Saturday in Great Smoky Mountains National Park I wasn’t up for another big hike on Memorial Day. I simply wanted to rest my feet and kick back, but after I woke up I realized I had little else to do. These are the times when I muster up the energy to explore local parks and forests when I wouldn’t otherwise. Hikes in the Triangle area are typically crowded and they lack the anticipation I feel when I’m planning hikes in the mountains. I always seem to enjoy them though, so I decided to strike out midday towards Uwharrie National Forest to get a quick hike in before the day was wasted. My plan was to hike the bulk of the trails in the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness, which also happens to be the closest section of the national forest. This small wilderness is located in the far northern tip of Uwharrie National Forest just outside of Asheboro and features a central loop with 4 connecting trails. The trail layout is commonly referred to as a hub-and-spoke. I started at the Tot Hill Farm Access for the Birkhead Mountain Trail, and circled back using the Hannahs Creek Trail and Robbins Branch Trail. This is the longest lollipop hike in the wilderness, and although bereft of views the forest is surprisingly scenic and makes for a pleasant walk in the woods.
Location: Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest, Purlear, NC Distance from Hubs:Raleigh (170 miles – 2 hours and 44 minutes) Charlotte (98 miles – 1 hour and 41 minutes) Asheville (109 miles – 2 hours and 8 minutes)Trail Access:From U.S. 421 west of Wilkesboro take NC-16 north for 4.3-mi and turn left onto Charity Church Rd. There should be large brown signs directing you to Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest. Drive 1.3-mi and continue slight left onto Shingle Gap Rd. Drive 1.7-mi and then turn right onto Rendezvous Mountain Rd. The main ranger station is 1.8-mi up this steep gravel road. You should see the fire tower just above the ranger station.Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHiking Trails: Fire Tower Trail – Talking Tree TrailHike Configuration: Out-and-back with 1 small loop Elevation Gain:318 feet Hike Distance:~1.1 miles Hiking Time: 30 minutes Date of Hike: 04-12-15, Sunday at 2:40 PMTrail Condition:Excellent — The Talking Tree Trail was very well-builtHike Difficulty: Moderately Easy — The summit tower is within a few hundred feet of the parking area but the Talking Tree Trail was much steeper and longer than I expected.Isolation: High — I was the only person in the park. I’m not sure how many people even know about this place but the picnic areas might be more popular on summer weekends Highlights:Peakbagging another North Carolina historic lookout tower Lowlights:Limited views from the mountain, not an elaborate trail system to explore Google Photos album link
Since I had a short hike along Mt. Jefferson, I had enough time to check out another short hike in the region. Debating between E.B. Jeffries Park and Rendezvous Mountain, I chose the latter. Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest is a small state unit northwest of Wilkesboro, NC. The park contains the namesake Rendezvous Mountain, historically considered a rendezvous point for the Overmountain Men during the Revolutionary War. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the march of militiamen southward from East Tennessee who eventually prevailed in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Rendezvous Mountain isn’t on the national historic trail, but it was supposedly a rallying point for the militiamen of Wilkes County to join the larger force. In more recent times the mountain was/is the location of one of the 26 lookout towers listed in Peter Barr’s excellent book Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers. This is why I chose the hike, to check off another lookout tower on the Carolina Mountain Club’s Lookout Tower Challenge list. To summarize, that’s about all this hike amounted to, a check on a list. There’s not much to the park, but I did not have ample time to explore the other trails that caught my eye.
Location:Annie Cannon Park, Blowing Rock, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (194 miles – 3 hours and 7 min) Charlotte (93 miles – 1 hour and 42 min) Asheville (90 miles – 1 hour and 38 min) Trail Access:Follow Main St through downtown Blowing Rock and turn right onto Laurel Lane. Drive 0.1-mi and turn left into the parking lot for the Glen Burney Trail.Click here for informationon the waterfalls and a map of the trailHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Glen Burney TrailHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 735 feetHike Distance:~2.7 miles Hiking Time: 1 hour and 25 minutes Date of Hike: 03-28-15, Saturday at 2:30 PMTrail Condition: Above Average — Starts as a nice forest road but deep in the gorge erosion is a big concern near the waterfalls Hike Difficulty:Moderate— The hike is short but it will be a steep return climb out of the gorge Isolation:Average — 3 waterfalls conveniently located inside a popular vacation town means you will rarely be alone on this hike Highlights:Intimate local trail along the creek, Easy access to the base of Glen Burney Falls Lowlights:Deadfall covering any view of The Cascades, deadfall and low water minimizes the beauty of an otherwise impressive Glen Marie FallsGoogle+ photo album link
Only hours earlier I had been freezing my *** off scrambling to put on every piece of clothing I carried as I hiked towards Flat Top Tower. Now as I was plodding my way back up New Years Creek Gorge I wondered why I bothered wearing my fleece, so I stripped and donned only a T-shirt as the winter sun beamed down on me. The difference was startling. It had been below 20°F with the wind on the western side of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, now it was nearly 45°F down in the eastern trenches and there was barely a trace of snow. Shortly after eating lunch at Bass Lake I felt I had plenty of afternoon time to tackle a trail I’ve been eyeing for a while. It was the Glen Burney Trail mere blocks away from downtown Blowing Rock in Annie Cannon Park. This trail drops steeply into the New Years Creek Gorge passing by 3 waterfalls in short succession. What more could you ask for?
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:Flat Top Mountain Overlook, Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, VADistance from Hubs: Raleigh (161 miles – 3 hours and 6 min) Greensboro (125 miles – 2 hours and 23 min) Roanoke (32 miles – 55 min) Trail Access:From Bedford, VA follow VA-43 north for 10.3 mi. When you enter Peaks of Otter Recreation Area turn right on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north for 2.5 mi. Trail parking is at the Flat Top Mountain Overlook, an alternative start point is 0.3 mi further on the left at the Fallingwater Cascades parking area.Click here for a map provided by the NPSon Peaks of Otter Recreation AreaHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Fallingwater Cascades Trail – Flat Top Trail (both sections of the Fallingwater – Flat Top National Recreation Trail)Hike Configuration: Loop and out-and-back Elevation Gain: 2,115 feetHike Distance:~7.7 miles Hiking Time: 3 hours and 35 minutes Date of Hike: 03-22-15, Sunday at 9:00 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — As a national recreation trail in the parkway system, this is mostly in very good condition except for some eroded sections near the top of Flat Top MountainHike Difficulty:Moderate — The uphill sections are all moderately graded and never difficult Isolation:Above average — The waterfall and mountain summit draw hikers but nothing like the crowds at Sharp Top Mountain and Abbott Lake Highlights:High flow at Fallingwater Cascades, Easy to reach cliff views on Flat Top Mountain Lowlights:Lack of 360° view on Flat Top Mountain and clear view of Sharp Top Mountain, Fallingwater Cascades is a low flow creek and will be pitiful during droughtsGoogle+ photo album link
It was my birthday, but Duke was playing in the NCAA Round of 32 in the middle of the afternoon and there was no way I’m missing the game. I really wanted to get outside for a birthday hike but had limited options for driving and hiking. I decided on Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, which is under 2.5 hours away and offers multiple short hikes. On my first visit I did a quick hike to Sharp Top Mountain on my way to DC, this time I wanted to park at the trail access to Fallingwater Cascades and Flat Top Mountain. Although Flat Top Mountain can be accessed from a lower trail head at Abbott Lake, this is a steep route. It may be shorter in distance but it will likely take the same time to reach the summit. In addition to the casual long walk to the summit, the upper trail head gives you access to Fallingwater Cascades. My mind was set, a new waterfall and a new summit in 7.7 miles. Fallingwater Cascades is a nice waterfall, well worth the short hike. Flat Top Mountain has multiple cliffs on the summit offering exceptional views west and east. This is a fairly easy hike that was a great half-day choice for my birthday trek along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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. At the park gate entrance turn right on Moores Spring Rd. In 0.3-mi turn left onto Hall Rd. and the large parking area for Lower Cascades Trail will be on your right in 0.6-mi. Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Lower Cascades TrailHike Configuration: Out and backTrail Condition: Excellent — Wide gravel path leads to an elaborate wooden staircase down to the falls Hike Distance:~0.9 miles Hiking Time:40 minutesDate of Hike: 01-19-15, Monday at 4:40 PMHike Difficulty: Easy — Flat hiking except for the stair climb on the way outIsolation: Average — The waterfall is popular due to its access and beauty Highlights:Staircase provides safe and easy access, Beautiful waterfall in natural amphitheater Lowlights:Nondescript hike, on weekends can get crowded Google+ photo album link
Hanging Rock State Park is popular for two reasons: views and waterfalls. On my recent adventure to Hanging Rock I took my friends on the Five Peaks Loop, a grand tour of all the best views in the state park. But I also had to show them the park has another superlative, an abundance of waterfalls. There are 5 waterfalls accessible by state park trails, and more via bushwhacking. This is the best location to view waterfalls east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the visitor center you can visit Upper Cascade Falls on an easy 0.2-mi hike or travel down the Indian Creek Trail on a slightly more difficult 0.6-mi one-way hike to Hidden Falls and Window Falls. All 3 of these waterfalls are crowded due to their location and ease of access near the visitor center, and not nearly as beautiful as Lower Cascade Falls. We were short on time and had already hiked 10 miles, so I decided that Lower Cascade Falls would be our one waterfall stop. Cascade Creek has much more water here than at Upper Cascade Falls, and the creek plummets ~35 feet into an amphitheater with an overhanging cliff above the waterfall. The setting is dramatic, and personally this is one of my favorite waterfalls in North Carolina. If you are visiting Hanging Rock State Park then plan on taking 45 minutes to see Lower Cascade Falls.
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:Mitchell River Game Lands, , NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (138 miles – 2 hr 20 min) Raleigh (164 miles – 2 hr 43 min) Trail Access:From I-74 take exit 6 NC-89 west for 13.7-mi. At an intersection with NC-18 go left for 0.8-mi and take a right to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway. Go south on the BRP for 4.6-mi and after milepost 221 look for Saddle Mountain Rd on left. Take a left going east and an immediate right on the unsigned gravel road (Mountain Lake Rd) before the church. In 200 ft go left on the first unmarked forest road and head 0.5-mi to its terminus. There will be a gate closing the road and a trail sign indicating the Saddle Mountain area.Trail information can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Saddle Mountain Trail Hike Configuration:Out-and-back with middle loop Hike Distance:~3.2 miles Elevation Gain: 860 feetHiking Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes Date of Hike: 9-14-14, Sunday at 4:10 PM Trail Condition:Average – Although the trail is on forest roads most are completely overgrown with grassHike Difficulty:Moderately easy – The trail was mostly flat except for steep ascent up Saddle Mountain Isolation:Very high – I saw no cars or people or animals in this area Highlights:None Lowlights:Highly overgrown trail, most trail were old forest roads, no views anywhere Google+ photo album link
Here’s a hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway you’ll want to pass right by. As I left Fox Hunter’s Paradise Overlook fresh off my hike at Cumberland Knob I was galvanized to start the second hike of the day, regardless of the cloud cover. The possibility of finding an awesome view on a trail no one hikes was enticing, but proved to be just the opposite. I had learned about Saddle Mountain through a news link on Meanderthals. It was part of Stanback Trails of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and conveniently located near a lot of other places I hike. The most enticing thing about it was on the website it declares the Horn of Saddle Mountain is a dramatic point rising 2,000 feet above the Piedmont. That sounds like a great view to me. It wasn’t. There are no views on this hike, there’s barely anything of note.