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: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: Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (97 miles – 1 hr 49 min) Durham (100 miles – 1 hr 49 min)Raleigh (123 miles – 2 hr 12 min) Trail Access: From U.S. 311 north in Walnut Cove, take NC 89 west for 11.4-mi past park entrance and take left onto Flinchum Rd for Dan River access. Parking lot at end of road, trail starts on the left. Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward trail linkHiking Trails:Indian Creek Trail Hike Configuration:Out and back Date of Hike:06-08-14, Sunday at 2:10 PMHike Distance:~8.2 miles Hiking Time:4 hours Elevation Gain:1,139 feetTrail Condition:Very good — well maintained state park trailsHike Difficulty: Moderately easy — This trail is easy with only a few uphill sections that make you work, mainly around the waterfalls Significant Stream Crossings:3 crossings with flat bedrockIsolation: Little — Mostly isolated below the waterfalls but lots of crowds from Window Falls to the top Highlights: Rock overhang and “cave” at Upper Window Falls Lowlights: Multiple stream crossings without easy rock hops, boring trail from gorge overlook to first waterfall, crowds around waterfalls Google+ photo album link
I recently got my first GPS device and have been wanting to try it out and compare it to GPS apps on my phone. After a long weekend I slept in Sunday and decided to try my GPS on a trail in Hanging Rock State Park I’ve never hiked before. The Indian Creek Trail (3.7-mi) travels the length of Indian Creek from the main visitor’s center to its meeting with the Dan River. I’ve never done this hike because it is a very popular trail with two waterfalls, but not much else to brag about. The two waterfalls – Hidden Falls and Window Falls – do not get much fanfare from hiking books so I’ve been saving this hike for a rainy day. As I was driving towards the park, that’s exactly what I got. The clouds turned darker and darker, and I even had some raindrops. That’s what I get for not checking the weather forecast. Luckily this is exactly the type of hike suited for cloudy and rainy conditions.
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.
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: Slightly complicated because the state park not close to any freeway, multiple state highways to get to the park boundary. Upper parking lot beside Hanging Rock Lake, trail starts to the left of the lake buildingsDirections to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHiking Trails:Chestnut Oak Nature Trail – Cook’s Wall Trail & additionally Upper Cascades Trail Hike Configuration:Out and back Trail Condition:Excellent — Wide maintained state park trailsHike Distance:~4.8 miles Hiking Time:2 hours Date of Hike:04-21-13, Sunday at 2:30 PMHike Difficulty: Easy — The only significant elevation gain is when the Cook’s Wall Trail leaves the Chestnut Oak Nature Trail. Mostly ridgeline hiking after reaching the Wolf Rock Trail junction. Isolation: Above Average — Decent crowds close to lake. Trail to Cook’s Wall one of least frequented trails in this popular state park but I encountered 3 groups on this trail. Highlights: House Rock view, multiple cliff views from Cook’s Wall, climbing path down to narrow and dangerous cleft in cliffs before Cook’s Wall Lowlights:Boring trail leading up to Wolf Rock Trail junction, Cook’s Wall Trail had more people than expected, lack of clear view of Moore’s Knob from end of Cook’s Wall Trail Google+ photo album link
I thought I would continue the beginnings of my blog with another hike in the Piedmont area I did last April. Since I have a huge backlog of hikes over the years, it seems best to post hikes occurring around the same month and season. Cook’s Wall is a 2.2-mile trail (one way) in Hanging Rock State Park that visits the multiple rock outcroppings along Cook’s Wall Mountain, with an excellent halfway stop at House Rock. This trail begins at Hanging Rock Lake and quickly ascends to the ridge connecting Hanging Rock and Cook’s Wall, then gradually wraps around the mountain offering many views from cliffs. I started this hike at 2:30 PM and ended at 4:30 PM on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with no clouds. After the hike, I took a quick look at Upper Cascades (0.4 mi round trip) since it had rained heavily 2 days prior.
Location:Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (99 miles – 1 hr 35 min) Durham (102 miles – 1 hr 35 min) Raleigh (125 miles – 1 hr 58 min) Park Access: Easy to find, state park exit right off freeway U.S. 52 north of Winston-Salem Trail Access: Parking lot on main road past visitor’s center or at family campground #16-17Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHiking Trails:Grindstone Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Jomeokee Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Grindstone TrailHike Configuration:Figure eight lollipop Date of Hike:04-12-14, Saturday at 2:00 PM Hike Distance:~5.5 miles Hiking Time:2 hours and 30 minutesTrail Condition:Excellent — Gravel roads and maintained rock stepsHike Difficulty:Moderately Easy — The Grindstone Trail has some elevation gain but is mostly an old roadbed. Jomeokee and Ledge Spring trails have many rocky steps.Isolation: Very Low — This is the most popular state park I’ve been to and the summit area is very crowded because a parking lot is in close proximityHighlights:Scenes of fire damage, multiple views along Ledge Spring Trail, Little Pinnacle Overlook, falcons soaring overhead around Big PinnacleLowlights:Not able to summit Big Pinnacle, lack of views on Grindstone Trail, wide gravel roadbed for most trails, summit trails very crowdedGoogle+ photo album link
Pilot Mountain – an iconic peak, wildly popular, and easily accessible. Yet I’ve never been there. So I thought this would be a good hike to kickstart my blog. I have driven by it and peered at it from various viewpoints all over northwestern North Carolina. I saved Pilot Mountain State Park as one of those areas I’ll visit eventually because it is close and I need to cross it off my list. It doesn’t feature any significant streams, and the hikes seemed limited especially since there are no hikes to the summit (it is a restricted bird habitat). My original plan was to wake up early and hike a 13 or 17 mile loop at Doughton Park. Per usual, I woke up around noon and instead of lounging around I decided to make the quick drive (1.5 hours) to Pilot Mountain to try to cover 2-3 hours of hiking on a beautiful afternoon. Fortunately, Pilot Mountain was much more scenic than I anticipated.