Monday, February 17, 2014

Hanging Rock

Hike: Hanging Rock-Wolf Rock-Cook's Wall Circuit
Location: Hanging Rock State Park
Nearby Town: Danbury, NC (50 minutes north of Winston-Salem)
Elevation (Max): 2,480'
Elevation Gained: 1419'
Mileage: 7.51
Difficulty: Strenuous
Trailhead: From Winston-Salem: Take Rte 311 N out of the city, after passing through Walnut Cove continue N on Rte 89, after passing through Danbury turn L on Hanging Rock Park Rd, continue on State Park Rd to the parking lot at the end next to the lake. From Mt. Airy: Take Rte 52 S, L onto Old US 52 S, L on Rte 268 E, R on Rte 89 S, R on Piedmont Springs Rd, R on State Park Rd, continue to the parking lot at the end next to the lake. The trail begins at the back of the parking lot along the lake.
Web Site:

Hanging Rock is hands down the best place for hiking in the North Carolina Piedmont.  It provides a legitimate mountain feel without the three, four, or five hour drive it takes to get to the mountains of western North Carolina.  Instead, it's about two hours from the Triangle and even quicker from the Triad.  I had been there a couple times before in summer and spring, and on a beautiful early November day I decided to check out what fall was like at Hanging Rock.

Walking along the lake, looking up Moore's Wall

In the other post I've done about Hanging Rock, I traversed Moore's Wall, which is the northwest ridge of the park, but this time I wanted to explore the southeast ridge, which leads to the park's namesake promontory (these ridges form a bowl with a lake in the middle that becomes very popular in the summer).  I started in the parking lot next to the lake and began my hike by walking southwest along the lake.  Eventually, the Chestnut Oak Nature Trail will split off to the left, but for this hike I continued straight (you could actually shorten this hike by going up Chestnut Oak Nature Trail to Wolf Rock and from there going northeast to Hanging Rock).  I followed the stream for about 1-1.25 miles until turning onto the Magnolia Springs Trail, which ascends the ridge to the south.  This is probably the most strenuous part of the hike.  The good news, though, is that once you're on the ridge, most of the trip is just hiking along top of it, which is easy.

Hanging Rock in the distance

Once you reach the top of the ridge, you can either go right of left.  Left will take you to Wolf Rock and eventually Hanging Rock to complete this loop.  I would eventually do that, but first I wanted to explore where going right would take me.  This trail is called Cook's Wall Trail and the main sights along it are House Rock, Cook's Wall, and Devil's Chimney.  These aren't very clearly marked, but they are basically rocky cliffs that provide excellent views.  House Rock and Cook's Wall give views over the Piedmont to the south while Devil's Chimney provides views of Moore's Wall and the other peaks of the Sauratown range.  The trail dead ends at Devil's Chimney so from there, backtrack to the intersection with Magnolia Springs Trail, and continue north east along the ridge on what becomes Wolf Rock Trail.

 A tree making a go of it on House Rock

 Other peaks of the Sauratown Range including Pilot Mountain in the distance

Moore's Wall from Devil's Chimney

Wolf Rock is a grouping of very large and jagged rock formations that form cliffs just off the Wolf Rock trail, and they definitely merit stopping for a moment to enjoy the view.  After soaking it in, continue heading northeast along Wolf Rock Trail which will gently decline toward its intersection with the Hanging Rock Trail (by the way, it was on this part of the trail where I noticed some of the most colorful foliage overhead).

 Looking back toward Cook's Wall from Wolf Rock
 Wolf Rock

Turn right, heading uphill, on the Hanging Rock Trail.  Up until this point, I encountered only a dozen or so groups of people, but from here until the end of the hike, it gets pretty crowded since this trail is the most direct route to the top of Hanging Rock.  The trail is pretty wide and smooth for a while until the final ascent of Hanging Rock which involves climbing up stairs.  This part gets strenuous, but it's also pretty short, so it winds up not being too bad.  Hanging Rock itself has different areas you can explore but most people just hang out at the top and enjoy the view.   If you look directly west, you'll see Moore's Knob, the highest point in the park, and you can even see its fire tower on top.  Looking southwest shows you the bowl that makes up Hanging Rock State Park, which is a great view in the fall.  Looking north and northwest, you can just see the faint outlines of the larger mountains of the Appalachians.  

The "bowl" that is Hanging Rock State Park

There is no shortage of people to take your photo on Hanging Rock (Moore's Wall in the background)

 Hanging Rock

One important note: this area requires caution with several extremely steep cliffs.  In fact, when I was there, I witnessed a mother who was in quite a panic about her children walking around the cliffs, and she didn't let anyone from her family actually go out onto Hanging Rock itself.  So just be smart, and you'll be okay.

Assorted Foliage:

After I enjoyed an apple on the peak, I retraced my steps back down from Hanging Rock past the Wolf Rock Trail intersection, to the visitor center parking lot.  I walked southwest to exit the parking lot and continued south along the road, past the lake, and back to the parking lot where the hike began.  I always love hiking at Hanging Rock, and going in the fall certainly reinforced that for me. Check out the GPS track below.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway--Green Knob

Hike: Green Knob Trail
Nearby Town: Blowing Rock, NC
Elevation (Max): 3900'
Elevation Gained: ~460'
Mileage: 2.1
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: This hike is accessible from the Sim's Pond Overlook at Milepost 295.9 between the town of Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain
Web Site:

Sim's Pond

E and I have made it a tradition to head west to the North Carolina mountains every year, usually in October.  Asheville is our usual home base for these trips, but a couple years ago, we decided to explore a new area, so we made out way out to Boone.  Turns out when people say Boone is the coolest place in North Carolina (thermally speaking), they aren't kidding.  E and I tried to save money by staying at a KOA instead of getting a room at a hotel.  Well, the morning we arrived at the KOA, they had an inch of snow on the North Carolina.  The night we were to stay there, it was sleeting, with excessively high winds, so we went through about 8 fire starters without successfully roasting one s'more.  When we tried to go to sleep, I suffered a facial beating as the walls of our tent repeatedly collapsed on me as a result of the relentless winds.  At about 2 in the morning, I started browsing TripAdvisor on my phone and calling the local hotels to see if we could get a room anywhere, and it turned out that out of the 6 or so hotels in Boone, only one had a room available, and we packed up and headed for drier, warmer, and more peaceful sleep.  So much for saving money.

Now, on to the hike.  As you head south from the Blowing Rock area on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Moses Cone and Julian Price parks, you'll see a pull off at Sim's Pond at Milepost 295.9.  The pond is pretty small, but scenic, and there is a trail that crosses the spillway of the pond, and that is the beginning of this hike.  Once you get to the other side of the pond, turn left to head into a dense rhododendron forest.  The trail will go across a few small ups and downs crossing Sim's Creek a couple times.  Some of these stream crossings are easier than others, but none of them are hazardous and the trail is always pretty obvious.  After a little more than a half mile, the trail crosses beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway alongside Sim's Creek.  There is a trail that breaks off here to go to another overlook off the parkway, but ignore it and continue on the trail ahead to make a loop.

The trail continues along the creek for a little while longer before turning left and leaving the creek behind.  The trail also steepens at this point, but what's ahead is a great payoff for your efforts.  The trail sneaks through a narrow opening in a fence to enter a beautiful, hilly pasture.  On our hike, this section simply took our breath away.  There were cows grazing on the hillside with fall colors emerging in the trees lining the pasture.  Open spaces like this can sometimes make staying on a trail difficult, but there was a pretty obvious worn path when we went that made it very easy.

I just love how that one bright red tree stands out

As the trail continues its climb and heads back into the woods, you'll find a bench near an opening in the trees that gives a nice view of some of the mountain peaks beyond.  Continue on just a bit more, though, and the view really opens up as the trail enters a meadow filled with goldenrod.  Looming over the meadow in the distance is Grandfather Mountain.  The trail descends through the meadow, briefly passes through some woods, and drops you off on the Parkway.  Turn left on the road for a quick walk back to the Sim's Pond Overlook where the hike began.  There was something about hiking along that beautiful mountain creek and through a cow pasture in cool, misty weather that made this hike one of our favorites.  I highly recommend it.  Check out the GPS-generated map below.

Calloway Peak of Grandfather Mountain

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eno Quarry

Hike: Eno Quarry
Nearby Town: Durham, NC
Elevation (Max): 496'
Elevation Gained: ~280'
Mileage: 2.28
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: From I-85, take Exit 173 and head south on Cole Mill Rd. Turn right on Hillsborough Rd/Rte 70.  Turn right on Sparger Rd, then turn left on Howe St and the parking for Cabe Lands (the section of Eno River State Park that contains this hike) will be on the right near a mobile home park.

From the Durham Freeway (Rte 147), take Exit 16A and then immediately take Exit 108D onto Hillsborough Rd (Rte 70).  Turn left and then follow the above instructions to Sparger Rd.

From 15/501, take Exit 108D and head west on Hillsborough Rd.  Then follow the above directions to Sparger Rd.
Web Site:

I had heard about the Eno Quarry as a popular swimming hole during the summer, and I clearly have a penchant for hiking around anything with the name Eno, so I decided to check it out.  The trailhead is in a bit of an odd location down a residential street across from a mobile home park, but you quickly leave all that behind as you head down the trail towards the river.  There are two trails that can, and should, be connected in a circuit on this hike.

As you begin the hike on the first trail, you come to a junction where you can go straight or left.  You can really go either way because these trails are loops, but I decided to go straight and I returned on the trail to the left.  When I did this hike it was early spring, and it was an encouraging sight passing multiple patches on daffodils in bloom along the trail.  Just before reaching the river, the trail passes by the remains of the mill race of the Cabe Mill that used to sit along the banks of the Eno here.  The trail turns left along the Eno River and follows it for a bit, which is always enjoyable.  At some point, the trail turns away from the river and comes to a junction.  If you go left here, you get back to the parking lot (this is eventually the way you will return), but for now go right to get to Eno Quarry.

 Some mushrooms

Stream crossing

This is now the second trail that you can use to make a circuit.  There is a sign at this junction pointing you toward the Eno Quarry Trail.  The hike to the quarry is pretty quick and easy with one somewhat tricky stream crossing (the stream isn't dangerous or deep, but you do have to rock hop).  After the stream crossing, you've reached the loop around the four acre quarry.  You can go left or right along the high banks above the quarry.  This quarry was dug to provide material to build nearby I-85, and when it was abandoned it filled up with groundwater to make this pond.  Since it was a quarry, the pond is very deep and the banks drop off rapidly, so be careful around the edges.  There is one area along the northeast corner of the quarry where it looks like there was a ramp for trucks to get into and out of the quarry, so if there is anywhere that you can wade in that's probably it.  On the other side of the trail on the east side of the quarry is the Eno River as it travels below a hillside covered in some pretty serious boulders.  After doing the loop around the quarry, you can return the way you came, and when you reach the junction from earlier go right to return to the parking lot.  I already have a favorite swimming hole along the Eno that is much less deep, so I think I'd pass on joining in, but it would be interesting to come back during the summer to see how busy the quarry gets.  Check out the GPS-generated map below.