Location: Hanging Rock State Park
Nearby Town: Danbury, NC (50 minutes north of Winston-Salem)
Elevation (Max): 2,480'
Elevation Gained: 1419'
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: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/haro/main.php
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
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)
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.
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.