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! Read more
I ran into an old friend the other day whom I had not seen in years. One of the things mentioned was that her and her family loved seeing my posts and pictures online. The simple things in life like this makes doing my hobby so much more rewarding. After a few minutes of talking, this person mentioned that her and her husband’s favorite trail was the Profile Trail on Grandfather Mountain. Read more
I love it when a plan comes together! At the last minute, the Friday of Super Bowl Weekend, my stepfather and I decided to take a little trip to the NC Mountains Ski Country, for some Super Bowl Sunday skiing. I was hesitant of this as I have not had a pair of the thin gliders on my feet in over a decade. I wasn’t very good then, so inexperience and old age just didn’t seem to be a combination that would work in my favor. Read more
It was one of those lazy weeks in late September. A few of us from work had a Wednesday off and no idea how to utilize it. Someone suggested that I take the group hiking to see some waterfalls. I thought this was a splendid idea. I had a course in mind and off we went. The weather was near picture perfect, being a sunny, low humidity day around 70. Our day was spent visiting Looking Glass Falls and Rock, hiking to Skinny Dip Falls, and we did some hiking and exploring in Graveyard Fields. As our day was nearing an end, the last stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway on this day was the Devil’s Courthouse, then we were on our way down the mountain on NC 215 and back to reality!
The Devils Courthouse is a beautiful view right along parkway. With a little imagination, one can just see the image while looking up at the beautiful rock formation. There is a sign that describes this rock profile with a little folklore thrown in for good measure.
“The bare rock profile named Devil’s Courthouse is sinister in appearance and legend. It’s “devilish” look has contributed to the many folk tales surrounding this mountain. Within the mountain is a cave where, legend claims, the devil holds court. In Cherokee lore, this cave is the private dancing chamber and dwelling place of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla.
Despite its name and reputation, Devil’s Courthouse is home to rare and delicate high-altitude plants. If you walk the one-half-mile route to the summit, please stay on the trail. Rare plants, like the Rock Gnome Lichen and the Spreading Avens, live on Devil’s Courthouse. Some of these alpine species may be remnants from the last glacial period. The panoramic view from the summit includes four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.”
I am not yet sure of the cave, or it being the private dancing chamber of Judaculla, but it is a beautiful place, that does show 4 states. It is 5720 ft in elevation at the top. To get there will require what the sign says is a 20 minute walk. I found that to be about right, and the climb will be about 250 ft. The trail is paved for most of the way, until the MST bears off, then a short ways up on gravel/dirt. Once at the top, get ready for one of the best views along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a large open rock viewing area, and a nice rock wall all around the edges. This is how an overlook should be.
As you can see this is a beautiful area and a “must-see” if you are in the area. We had some fun, clowned around a little, then headed back to the real world. The trip down seemed to take about half as long.
Grandfather Mountain was the site this past August weekend for the most rugged, craziest hike I have completed to date. I have been on some hikes that had steep inclines/declines. I have been on hikes that required ladders to climb large boulders. I have even hiked to Calloway Peak, the highest point on Grandfather Mountain via the “Profile Trail”. So…when I saw the warning signs in the parking lot at the famous “Mile High Swinging Bridge”, I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself, ” it can’t be that bad….they are just posting this for disclaimers”. Little did I know…….
I have been to Grandfather Mountain numerous times in my life. I even have a season pass there. It is after all North Carolina’s top attraction. The swinging bridge at 5200 ft, and the view that awaits on the other side are both absolute must sees. Just a short ways down the mountain are a number of other places to visit including a museum, fudge/ice cream shop, and a large outdoor wildlife center that allows visitors to get fairly up close for good views of black bears, cougars, eagles, river otters, and deer.
After the wildlife viewing, it was time to get down to business. There was this trail called the Grandfather Trail that needed my attention. This is where the fun truly begins. My hike begins in the Black Rock Parking Lot, the one below the one at the bridge. This is where they want all hikers to park. The red blazed Grandfather Ext. Trail begins here and connects with the Grandfather Trail in 0.6 miles. We had massive storms the day and evening prior and the ditches, and creeks were all flowing well along with just about every rock surface wet. This should have been a sign for me. When I fell and busted my tail on the grass before the trailhead, that should have been a sign. I hiked on. The ext. trail was nothing more than a connector trail, that was a creek the entire way on this day.
The shots above show the condition of the Ext. Trail on this day. It literally was a creek, not a tiny spring or two. This mountain just has a lot of water to drain I guess. It is the starting place for the Linville River, Watauga River, and Wilson Creek just name a few. Notice the fresh deer tracks along the trail, not an uncommon sight up here, they truly are everywhere.
Now that we have made it to the The Grandfather Trail, we are roughly halfway there. 0.6 down, 0.6 to go. The trail from this junction, begins out being rocky, wet and rocky this day. Shortly, Macrae peak becomes visible and fun is sure to be in the near future. The path opens up at Grandfather Gap with lots of huge boulders dotting the landscape. After this, the incline begins.
Cables, thick steel cables are the first assist you will find as the climb goes up over large slippery boulders. There is a narrow pass between 2 huge rocks that has cables and a ladder. From here the trail literally goes straight up!! There is no other way to put it. There will be at least 5 or 6 more ladders to climb, with dicey rocks to navigate between them. As you approach 6000 feet in elevation the wind is a big factor up here. There was also some considerable fog moving in and out, making this hike quite an experience.
Once you have climbed the triple ladders, or what I call the “Stairway to Heaven”, it keeps going up. The blue dotted trail parallels the cliffs now and the terrain is very rocky. It is not long however before you reach this days destination….Macrae Peak.
Once up on this last rock, I savored this moment. This was an accomplishment, not your ordinary hiking trail. A large group was on top with me all just in amazement of the trail and views. Calloway Peak is a beautiful view from here, but with the wet conditions, I felt it was a good point to head back.
Now comes the moment I was really nervous about , going down. This is where most falls happen, and with the crazy climbs just made, I was somewhat worried about going down. I took my time, 1 step at a time and got down eventually. I took the Grandfather Trail all the way back this time to the upper parking lot and then the 0.4 mile Bridge trail to my car that takes you under the mile high swinging bridge for a neat view and perspective. This was quite a hike, one I will not soon forget.
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.
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, the temperatures here while a 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. Stone Mountain Falls lies on the loop trail, while Widows Creek Falls is located deeper into the park with its on 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, but the best shots require 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, 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 is 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.
“Jomeokee”, or “The Great Guide” as it was once known to native Americans, Pilot Mountain sits alone in Northwestern NC. A metamorphic quartzite monadnock that stands at 2421 feet above level. It is a the shining star of the ancient Sauratown Mountain Range. The other remnants of this once great chain sit just to the east and are made available by the popular Hanging Rock State Park.
Snow!! This day was all about snow. February 19 was our first measurable snow this season which is rare. It wasn’t much mind you, but it was enough to get us all excited. I was able to drive to the top of Pilot Mountain the same day of the snow, so obviously it was minimal, maybe 2 inches on top.
Pilot Mountain State Park, sits just minutes outside of Winston-Salem, and is a wonderful breath of fresh air when time does not allow a longer trip to the bigger mountains just to the west. The park road takes you to the top, not the Pinnacle itself as this is unaccessible. Once there, you will find numerous picnic spots, well designed overlooks at the piedmont valley below and on the “Little Pinnacle”, you will find the grandest view of the Pilot Mountain “Knob”. There are also some very good hiking trails here that I love to explore in warmer weather, today they had yellow tape, saying “Do Not Enter”. I guess they care about us….
The above shot is taken on the Little Pinnacle with the piedmont valley floor below. Its was a beautiful day up here, crisp and chilly, with blue sky abundant. After a few shots though, it was time to get back to the real world. I will be hiking Pilot Mountain from the bottom up soon, and will report back on that later.
Usually there is an accessible trail up to and around this large Pinnacle, but it was closed today, that is a shame, this is what I came to see.
It is just not a typical winter in North Carolina. Instead of inches of snow, and power outages, we are counting 60 degree days at the lower elevations, and going on some sweet winter hikes that we normally can not do. On a day that I had Roan Mountain in mind, Elk Knob crossed my view on my pc, and I realized that I have never been to this place, a location that was very close and accessible to the crossroads town of the northern NC mountains, Boone.
Elk Knob State Park currently has 1 main trail to the Summit, a 1.8 mile climb that ascends 1000 ft. While this may sound rough, this was probably the most pleasant , easy to hike 1000 climb I have experienced. The trail is brand new, full of fresh gravel and switches back and forth frequently until you arrive at the summit. This summit is not full of crags and other rock formations to climb , it is just a nice grassy summit, that has a north and south view. I stopped in for a visit at the temporary visitor center. There was an sweet older lady working on this day. We conversed about the new park, how long it had been here. Sh gave me a very clear and accurate layout of the trail and what to expect. She was very accurate too. She told me that on a clear day like today, I could see 50 miles in all directions. One of the last things she told me was that the winds would be very chilly up there and that I needed something to cover my neck and ears…she was very sweet!
Once the 1.8 mile ascent was complete, I remember thinking that I could not agree with her more. There was not one viewpoint up here, but two, a north view and a south view, both with amazing shots. Each one has a descriptive placard with a “virtual” map. It shows accurately which mountains you see as you change your direction of view. I think this is particularly a nice touch. Some mountains I could clearly recognize like Pilot and Grandfather, others, I might not have known. A cold front had just cleared the region the night before and it was a very clear morning, making the views sensational, almost indescribable in words and pictures. Some things, you really just have to see in person.
On the north side, the top attraction to me was clearly the viewing of Pilot Mountain, which is actually over 90 miles to the east, well further than the 50 mile range I was expecting. Pilot has this large knob on it, which makes it one of the most recognizable landmarks in western NC. There are also some amazing views of Snake Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and Mount Mitchell. The ski slopes of Beech and Sugar Mountain were clearly visible and also displayed the only…..snow to be found, amazing for this time of year. At an elevation over 5500 ft, snow should be everywhere, I had a hard time finding any ice on rocks as well, it is just an unusually warm winter.
Once back at the vehicle, I made the short commute back into Boone for lunch at one of the great local sandwich shops. I did stop by for an afternoon visit at Linville Falls, so look for that to come soon.