Monday, April 26, 2010

Raven Rock

Hike: Raven Rock Loop
Location: Raven Rock State Park
Nearby Town: Lillington, NC
Elevation (Max): 320'
Elevation Gained: 400'
Mileage: 3.8
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: Raven Rock State Park is pretty far from interstate highways, so directions will vary widely. From the Research Triangle area, though, take Rte 55 S (for western Wake County towns like Morrisville, Cary, Holly Springs) and turn R on Rte 401 S in Fuquay-Varina. From Raleigh, take Rte 401 S. When Rte 401 ends, turn R onto Rte 421 which crosses a river and enters Lillington. Rte 421 turns R in Lillington, and follow to Raven Rock Rd. Turn R and follow to the parking area in the park.
Web Site:

Raven Rock State Park is, in my opinion, the most impressive geologic feature in the Triangle area (it is about an hour from Durham and 40 minutes from Raleigh). The main attraction in the park is, obviously, Raven Rock--a long, high rock cliff overlooking the Cape Fear River 150 feet below. In an area seriously lacking when it comes to hills and cliffs, Raven Rock is a destination worth the trip.

E and I did this hike in late August. The drive down was interesting for us since we were new to the area so we got our first looks at Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs (where we stopped on the return trip for some delicious pizza at La Dolce Vita). When we got to the park, the parking situation was a bit confusing since it appeared they were in the process of construction or renovations of what appeared to be a visitor center and parking lot. However, we ended up parking in a dirt parking lot to the right of the main road. We found the trailhead at the back of the lot and began the hike down the Raven Rock Loop Trail.

The stairs down Raven Rock to the riverbank

The vast majority of the Raven Rock Loop Trail is basically flat. Only at Raven Rock does that change--a long stairway takes hikers from the top of the cliffs to the riverbank. The cliffs look very impressive from beneath as they overhang the riverbank. E and I spent a while walking around the cliffs exploring and using the large overhangs to produce very powerful echos. After we explored all we could, we headed back up the stairs and continued on the Loop Trail. After a short while, a short spur goes out to an overlook from the top of the cliffs. E and I really enjoyed this overlook simply because features such as these that afford long views are so rare around the Triangle--and so common in New England. From the overlook we could see some rapids up the river and what appeared to be people out in the middle of the river. We decided to check it out.

E under Raven Rock

Cape Fear River

E under huge overhang

E barely visible by Raven Rock

Looking up at Raven Rock

I consulted the map and determined that what we saw must have been the Fish Traps so after returning to the Loop Trail, instead of going left at the next junction, we went right down the Fish Traps Trail. This trail was a steady but gradual descent to the river. The river was pretty neat. We were able to walk out on large flat rocks that stuck out into the river creating chutes, rapids, and eddies. After checking everything out, we headed back up the Fish Traps trail and returned to the parking lot. Raven Rock is pretty impressive and unique in this area, and we left a lot of park unexplored so hopefully I will get back there someday.

Cape Fear River from the overlook

Cape Fear River and people on the Fish Traps

Cape Fear River from Fish Traps

Looking downriver from Fish Traps

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Moore's Wall

Hike: Moore's Wall Loop
Location: Hanging Rock State Park
Nearby Town: Danbury, NC (50 minutes north of Winston-Salem)
Elevation (Max): 2,579'
Elevation Gained: 900'
Mileage: 4.3
Difficulty: Moderate
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 Moore's Wall Loop Trail begins at the back of the parking lot along the lake.
Web Site:

E and I were growing frustrated with the hiking opportunities in the Triangle area, so we looked westward toward the mountains. Unfortunately, the mountains are a bit far away for a day hike, but I found some superb peaks only about 2 hours away, north of the Triad region. These peaks, Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock, and Moore's Knob, are the eroded quartzite remnants of an ancient mountain range called the Sauratown Mountains. These peaks provide a great, quick alternative to a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains which is at least a 3 hour drive from the Triangle or to Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is about 5 hours away. The trade-off is the peaks are not as mighty as the Blue Ridge or Smokies with the tallest peak coming in at 2,579 feet (Moore's Knob) compared to the western mountains where you can find a few dozen 6,000'+ mountains, but for a day trip, one can't complain.

E and I went to Moore's Wall on a beautiful August day. It was hot but not too hot in the Carolina Piedmont and it made for a good hiking day. We parked the car, marveled at how many people were playing around and in the lake, and headed down the trail beyond the lake. The trail is obvious for basically the entire hike, and most junctions include signs clearly showing which way to go. After hiking along the stream that flows from the lake for a bit, the Moore's Wall Loop Trail turns right up hill at a junction with another trail. From this point to the summit, the hike is a nearly continuous climb, but it is never too strenuous, and the climb doesn't last all that long. In fact, one of the things I most enjoyed about this hike was that it seemed to be right in the sweet spot of the effort to reward ratio. Some hikes where you basically drive to the summit and just stretch your legs to get a view feel cheap and some hikes take hours upon hours of exertion to get a view, but Moore's Wall took about an hour of good hiking to get phenomenal views. E can attest that I was simply amazed at how long the views were.

Walking along the stream

Some impressive boulders

The neat thing about Moore's Wall is that the summit is basically one long ridge, so once you reach the ridge, you can enjoy the views as you hike to the peak, Moore's Knob (which is hardly noticeable as a peak). The views to the west include the very distinctive Pilot Mountain, and faint outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To the east you can see the namesake of the state park, Hanging Rock, and to the south, the skyscrapers of Winston-Salem are visible. After hiking along the entire ridge, the trail arrives a junction. To the right is the continuation of the loop that will bring you back down to the lake and your car, and to the left is a short spur trail to cliffs and a firetower. GO LEFT. The views from the quartz cliffs and firetower were the hands down highlights of the hike--it was here I remarked to E that the views were unbelievably long.

Looking west from the cliffs

Looking north to Virginia from the cliffs

Hanging Rock

Looking back to the lake where we started

Looking back along Moore's Wall

Some other Sauratown peaks including the distinctive pinnacle of Pilot Mountain

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance

View to Virginia from the firetower

The cliffs

E striking the M pose

E and I enjoying the view

Moore's Wall benchmark

After enjoying the views (this would be a great place to enjoy lunch), the loop trail continues heading down the mountain along stone steps (I can hardly imagine the hard work it took to build all those steps). Eventually the trail will pass by some wooden fencing and cross a beautiful little stream. The presence of those fences makes me wonder if some farmer once used this mountain, in which case, wow. The descent continues, eventually passing through the park's campground, where lots of families were enjoying their weekend, and back to the lake from where it is a short walk back to the car. E and I really enjoyed this hike--it's definitely a hidden gem. In fact, even people who visit Hanging Rock State Park almost never hike Moore's Wall but instead opt for the park's eponymous peak. So not only is Moore's Wall enjoyable for the climb and views but also for the solitude. Some day I plan to go back and hike Hanging Rock to see if it's worth the crowds, but in my mind, I've already found the premier peak in the Piedmont.

Could there have been a farm here?

Nice little stream

A red spotted newt that E came within an inch of stepping on

Back to the lake