Pilot Mountain State Park, NC

 

East view of Big Pinnacle from Little Pinnacle

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.    

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Birkhead Mountains Wilderness – Uwharrie National Forest, NC

 

Birkhead Mountain Trail
Birkhead Mountain Trail

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.

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Lower Cascade Falls – Hanging Rock State Park, NC

 

Lower Cascade Falls
Lower Cascade Falls

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.

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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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Indian Creek Trail – Hanging Rock State Park, NC

 

Upper Window Falls
Upper Window Falls

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.

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Moore’s Knob – Hanging Rock State Park, NC

 

 

Sauratown Mountains
Sauratown Mountains

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.

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Cook’s Wall – Hanging Rock State Park, NC

 

 

Hanging Rock and Wolf Rock
Hanging Rock and Wolf Rock

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.

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Grindstone Trail to Pilot Mountain – Pilot Mountain State Park, NC


 

Sauratown Mountains in one view
Sauratown Mountains in one view

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.

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