Usually, to see frozen waterfalls in Western NC, one must go further west and up in elevation. However, on our 4th night in a row of temps in the teens and single digits here in the lower elevations, I had a feeling that our small waterfalls at the nearby Hanging Rock State Park might just freeze up. It is a Sunday morning and is the last day of temps this cold, before rain and slightly warmer air moves in. So, I fought all instincts and got out of bed very early on a frigid morning and headed out just after the park opened at 7 am. I wasn’t expecting much company as it was 12 degrees in the visitor center parking lot. Read more
As I continue to develop my skills in photography, I have learned and accepted that I must look at rainy, gray days as opportunities…..good things. I am a sunny day hiker by habit, and enjoy being outdoors in good weather. The rainy days are usually spen…well, indoors. Because of the lighting challenges that sunny days present when photographing waterfalls, I have slowly, over time accepted the fact that I must get out on these gray days and take advantage….if I ever want to take better images.
It’s a rare Monday off work in January. After a busy weekend hiking, and NFL playoff games, I was feeling a little lazy today. About noon, I decided to get out of the recliner and make sure this nice 50 degree day was not wasted. It’s a good thing that I live within a half hour drive of Hanging Rock State Park.
Lower Cascades, a set on Flickr.
A collection shots from the numerous trips I have made to this location. This is a beautiful 35 foot waterfall in Hanging Rock State Park that requires about 1/3 mile hike that starts off through the woods, then down a series of steps, some wooden and some stone.
It was a snow flurry filled Saturday and I was itching to get out. I had decided that this day was to be my first hiking trip with waterfall pictures using my tripod and DSLR. I have taken my point and shoot along long enough, and gotten nice waterfall shots, but something is just lacking in them. I had not been producing that silky, white water that better photographers get. I had tried some, but didn’t do this , or didn’t do that, or left the tripod at home, etc. Today, it was overcast, and very cold. I knew I would have some private time at the falls and it was time to set up and experiment until I saw something I liked.
I did not want to go far, so I chose nearby Hanging Rock State Park. It is a wonderful state park loaded with hiking trails, magnificent views from points reaching 2500 feet in elevation, a lake, the Dan River, historical sites such as Tory’s Den, and is also home to 5 waterfalls. On this day I would hike 3 separate trails to get to 4 of these 5. First stop was the waterfall that is located outside the main park, and probably the most picturesque of the group, the 35 foot high “Lower Cascades”
Getting here requires a drive to Hall Rd, just outside the main park, a well marked parking area is on the right. The trail is about 0.3 miles and starts out as a nice walk in the woods. The descent to the falls is down a series of steps, wooden and stone and is safe. It will likely cause a little huffing and puffing on the way up, but it is not too bad. At the bottom, you will be greeted with a beautiful 35 foot waterfall, steep cliffs on the left, and a beautiful stream that cascades more as it leaves the falls.
This was a good trip, I was very pleased immediately, so I decided to hike to another one. I drove up the mountain into the main park to the very large parking lot at the visitor center. Here is the access to the Upper Cascades, another 35 foot waterfall on the same creek. The trail is short again, maybe 0.3 miles that descends to the waterfall viewing deck, then down some steep steps to the base.
Again I was pleased with these shots and on this hike, snow began to fall. It was not too heavy and did not stick so it made the hike even more enjoyable. I decided to do one more trail, on the other side of the parking lot. This one was the Indian Creek Trail, which also runs along the Mountains To Sea Trail. This leads to 2 waterfalls along Indian Creek. While smaller than Cascade Creek, it is still very scenic and the waterfalls are nice. First waterfall is Hidden Falls, a small 13 ft fall that looks very nice when it has water flow.
Another 0.2 miles down the trail is the more defined Window Falls, a 25 foot waterfall, named for the 3-4 foot hole in the gigantic rock formation at this waterfall. This waterfall requires some steep rock steps to get to as the trail really begins to descend here.
The last 2 shots are the “Window”. After the return hike, I decided that was enough for this day. I had certainly found what I came up here seeking. Now it’s a whole new world.
Sitting just north of Winston-Salem, are the Sauratown Mountains. This small, ancient chain was once a part of the much bigger blue ridge chain that sits just to the west. Moore’s Knob is the highest peak in this chain at 2579 ft. It sits in the popular Hanging Rock State Park, and is one of my favorite weekday hikes. The closeness to home, difficulty of this hike, and views it offers make it hard to beat.
The view above is the popular Hanging Rock, for which the park is named after. This is about as close as I would get to this on this day. It is a great hike reaching the top of this and one I will feature at a later date. This park is actually home to several great hikes. Cook’s Wall, House Rock, Wolf Rock, Hanging Rock, Tory’s Den are all popular destinations. The Park also has 5 waterfalls, Upper Cascades, Lower Cascades, Tory’s Falls, Hidden Falls, and Window Falls. They are all fairly small and can dry up to a trickle in the hotter dryer summer months. The Mountains To Sea trail also runs through the park and is on a good part of the Moore’s Knob hike today.
The Moore’s Knob hike begins at the very top parking lot in the park. Driving to the top, you will pass the entrance to the visitor center and opt for the lake parking area. The trail begins here at at old rock picnic shelter/swim center besides the lake. This area is packed in the summer months withs kids swimming in the cool spring fed mountain lake waters. For the first mile of this hike, it is relatively flat. It is really just a nice walk through the the woods as you walk along the lake to start. After about 1/4 mile, the trail enters the forest on a series of long wood-planked boardwalks put there to help protect the environment. The trail runs along the lake and the stream that feeds it and there are spots that can be marshy. After a mile you will come to a sign and trail junction. Going left heads to Cooks Wall (another day for sure), and going right heads to Moore’s Knob and Tory’s Den. It is about here that things get real. The incline starts mildly then steadily gets steeper and steeper. I think one of the things that makes this trail somewhat challenging for me is that it changes its texture here and becomes somewhat of a dry creek bed full of larger rocks and stones. Footing can be tricky, as ankles can get twisted when trying to make good time on terrain like this. Once you reach the top of the ridge, you will know you have done some climbing. Moore’s Knob is still nearly a mile away down the ridge.
One thing that is constant with the Moore’s Loop is that there are just not many good wide open views. This trail runs for a mile atop this mountain. Even once the top of the ridge has been reached, every side path that would seem to be a nice wide open view is just a partially obstructed one at best. Right now with the lack of leaves, I was able to get a nice view of Pilot Mountain through the trees.
While hiking this ridge, the trail does a number of switch backs going up and down. While the views are obstructed at best, there are some pretty cool rock formations along the way. After about 3.1 miles, waalaa!! ……destination reached, Moore’s Knob and the Lookout Tower that sits on top of it. The following shots were taken while on the knob…..
This Lookout Tower sits atop Moore’s Knob at 2579 feet, the highest elevation in the Sauratown’s.
Once you have reached this peak, it becomes clear that all of the huffing, puffing, and sweat are worth it 100 times over. This is clearly the best view in the park, with full 360 degrees is available. There are things to be seen in each direction, from Pilot Mountain and Sauratown Mountain to the west-southwest, the Blue Ridge escarpment to the west-northwest, the Hanging Rock and Visitor Center to the north, The beautiful shot of the lake way below to the east, and to the south, the entire ridgelines of Moore’s Knob and Cook’s Wall. The rolling hills below and surrounding farmlands help to make the experience complete. There is also a very large rock to walk around at the top with places to sit and enjoy the view. It does not get much better than this.
Hanging Rock Lake & Swimhouse
Hanging Rock Visitor Center & Parking Lot
Hanging Rock Lake
Finally, here is a guy that I ran into that knows how to spend a beautiful afternoon at Moore’s Knob, relaxing in the portable hammock while sitting on top of the world!!
From the tower back to the parking area, it is downhill all the way. The trail is rock step, trail, rock step for the 1.2 miles which can be difficult on my old man knees. A campground with a small amphitheater will come into play, and the only real creek crossing will occur just before the trail rejoins itself just past the lake to complete the loop. In summary, this hike comes in at just under 5 miles. It earns every bit of the strenuous rating that it has been given. Some other trails in the park offer more numerous views and points of interest than this one, but none are any better.
Hanging Rock State Park just north of the triad in NC, is home to 5 named waterfalls. They are small in nature and are nothing like the much larger waterfalls that lie farther west. Several of these 5 falls dry up to merely a trickle in summer, but we had just received 1-2 inches of rain, so curiosity got the best of me. How much of an impact would rain have on these small falls? I had just enough free time after work to ride up, visit 2 of them and find out for myself.
Torys Falls is in a remote section of the park which requires a different drive than the regular one into the main park. The short hike to Torys Falls is listed as moderate. Once there, you find yourself at a ledge looking at a waterfall over 100 ft tall. It is very tiny though, even with good rain, it was not an impressive flow. Even though the waterfall is over 100 ft, only about the top 25 feet can be viewed as the rest disappears over cascades into the deep forest. There is another treat here, Torys Den, a cave that was once the “hide-out” of the remaining Tories in the revolutionary war.
My next stop was a short drive to the Lower Cascades Parking Lot. This location, while still outside of the main park, is home to Hanging Rock’s finest waterfall, “Lower Cascades”, a very scenic 35 foot waterfall with a huge overhanging cliff on the left side. Another short hike is on tap here, a tad longer than Torys Den and a tad steeper. Fairly new steps have made this once treacherous trek reasonably safe now. The waterfall could be heard from the parking lot on this day, so I was pretty excited about getting down there. Once there, I could tell the water flow was up and it made for a gorgeous setting. I sat there nearly 15 minutes, took a few pictures, then began my return to the real world. There is definitely some reward to be had, if you are able to get to a waterfall just after a big rain, even on small falls like these.