Well, if the recent 60’s weren’t enough, today we hit the low 70’s, in February…Crazy! There was no way that I was not going to find a way to get out and enjoy this. My choice today was Stone Mountain State Park. Stone Mountain State Park is one of my favorite places to hike, especially during the week. The location is very close to the triad where I live. The park sits just at the edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment. The elevation at the summit is only 2305, and the temperatures here while a tad cooler than the triad, tend to be similar to that of lower elevations, which makes it a prime hiking spot in the winter. This park was one of the original places that I began hiking so it holds a special place with me. I can not think of another hike that offers more variety in it!
This park has waterfalls, 4 named ones, Stone Mountain Falls, Widow Creek Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. I would say that only Stone Mountain Falls and Widow Creek Falls are the must see ones, but all are worth a visit. Stone Mountain Falls lies on the loop trail, while Widows Creek Falls is located deeper into the park with it’s own short trail. My trip here usually begins with the drive to the back side of the park to see Widows Creek Falls. It is only a short distance from the road, and a gorgeous 25 footer. It is on a small creek and dry weather, especially in summer can almost dry this up.
The walk here is short, and there is a great place to view this Widows Creek Falls without crossing the creek. However, to get right down to the base, requires a creek crossing, which can be tricky. The bedrock up here when wet, can be as slippery as ice. Be careful.
The next waterfall is seen while hiking the 4.3 mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail. This waterfall is a 200 foot waterfall, and has taken a number of lives. Fences are up, signs are up to stay off, but for some reason, people continue to fall over. The best place to view this waterfall, is at the bottom, of a 298 step stairway. Yes, 298, a lot of steps, especially if going up.
The other two waterfalls are further downstream from Stone Mountain Falls along Big Sandy Creek, and really are hardly worth mentioning. They are good to see once and can be done so by taking a one way spur trail that leads off the Stone Mountain Loop Trail about halfway between the Homestead and Stone Mountain Falls.
One of the treats I get to see most of the time when I come here is deer. For some reason, I see more here than any other place. It is rare that I do not see them. On this day, I was able to count 17 deer in 6 different locations. Usually, they are seen eating the grass along the roadways through the park, but I have been startled a few times on the trail. They tend to not fear humans much which could be a bad thing if they ever got tired of this area and left the protection that the state park offers them.
Now on to the hike, the 4.3 mile loop trail really offers a little bit of everything. There is a summit climb to 2305 ft which can be climbed by a longer, more moderate climb, or a short but steep one. When I began hiking, I used the moderate longer route, I almost always opt for the short and steep one now though. There are two separate access points with large parking lots, restrooms and drinking water sources. There is a long walk through a thick rhododendron forest that comes out at the Hutchinson Homestead. The Homestead is a restored farmsite from the 1800’s that includes the house and a number of barns, blacksmith shop, tobacco barn, meat cooler, laundry site, and spring box. The buildings are open to tour on weekends. All of this sits in the valley with the huge Stone Mountain Dome just in the background. It is quite picturesque, especially when leaves have bright color and they sky is deep blue with a few white puffy clouds. On this day however, all the trees are bare and the sky was more of a haze. No complaints though, it is February and 72 degrees.
After the Homestead, the trail returns to the forest. For the next mile or so, the trail will wander through more rhododendron, cross a small creek a number of times and eventually meet up with Big Sandy Creek. You will know when you reach this stream as it is loud, lots of small cascades and rapids as it rushes its way down the mountain. This reaches a climax at Stone Mountain Falls, a 200 foot waterfall. From there, 298 wooden steps must be climbed. You might be inclined to curse them, but just imagine the climb to the top if they were not there. After a little more uphill past Stone Mountain Falls, an old standing stone chimney sits. This is also the meeting place for the Loop Trail and the upper spur.
It should also be noted, that, just in case 5 miles is not long enough, this hike can be extended to around 8 miles by taking a side trail called Wolf Rock Trail. It will climb a mountain adjacent to Stone Mountain, offer some sensational views, from Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock. It will connect with the Black Jack Ridge Trail and eventually circle back around to the Loop Trail at the Homestead.