Friday, September 21, 2012

Autumn Fun in the NC (Stone Mountain State Park)

This Saturday, we are taking advantage of the fact that the humidity is gone (jumping for joy!) and heading out for a hike. We plan to check out Hanging Rock State Park, which is a little over a 2 hour drive northwest from Durham, NC. In the meantime, I am reminiscing about a great hike we took last year on a perfect fall day in the middle of October. Allyson and I, along with our friends Ciara and Beth, took a beautiful drive up to Stone Mountain State Park. The State Park is right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is arguably one of the best places in the country to see the fall colors.

State parks in North Carolina are amazing! The trails are always well-maintained and well-marked. Stone Mountain State Park was no exception. With a free trail map you will have no trouble finding your way back to your car. However, you may choose to extend your hike, as we did, because you are having such a wonderful time. We had planned to do the "strenuous", 4.5 mile, Stone Mountain Loop Trail. As far as I am concerned, nothing in North Carolina is strenuous. However, we did summit the mountain, all 2,305 feet of it! There is a steady climb leading up to the summit, which must be the reason for the strenuous rating, but just about anyone in reasonable shape can do this hike and enjoy it.

We started the hike at the Upper Trailhead Parking area and went clockwise on the loop trail; therefore, seeing Stone Mountain Falls first. There are great views of Stone Mountain off to the right for much of the first half of this loop. When we got to the clearing (about half way on the loop), we stopped and had lunch looking up at the climbers on Stone Mountain. After lunch, we realized we weren't ready to go back yet, so we backtracked just a bit to add on the Cedar Rock and Wolf Rock Trails. This was totally worth it! I recommend doing this no matter what, and skip the backtracking. Just turn left on the Cedar Rock Trail when you are coming down the Stone Mountain Loop Trail. There will be a great spot to stop and eat lunch right on Cedar Rock and no one will be there!

The only tricky part about the Cedar Rock/Wolf Rock loop is finding where Wolf Rock Trail starts. Once you are on Cedar Rock, head up the rock and you will find Wolf Rock Trail in the trees on your left. These two trails add on about 2.5 miles, making the whole hike about 7 miles.

I'm heading toward Wolf Rock's in the trees to the left up there. 

After meeting back up with Stone Mountain Loop Trail, we stopped by the bathrooms at the Lower Trailhead Parking area before beginning our ascent. There were a decent amount of people enjoying the gorgeous day and trail, but not so many that we didn't have plenty of time to ourselves and plenty of space to goof around!

Near the top, there are several spots you'll want to stop to soak in the view. Mountains (more like rolling hills) as far as your eyes can see, covered in yellows, oranges, and greens. Just gorgeous!

We can't help it. It's hard not to laugh about a summit of 2,305 ft when you've climbed Mt. Whitney and backpacked in Glacier National Park. But there is something more peaceful or meditative about the Blue Ridge Mountains. We definitely appreciate their beauty, even if we joke about the summit. 

A couple cool things about this park...1. It's fairly close to Durham and a super easy drive and 2. You basically go through Winston-Salem to get there. There is a great brewery (with sweet potato fries) in Winston-Salem called Foothills Brewery. Make sure you stop there on your way home from a great day of hiking. We happened to pull into Winston-Salem right when their 1st Annual Pride Parade was taking place! It was nice to see a rather conservative town celebrating diversity. We make Foothills Brewery a regular stop on our way to or from Asheville or anything in the western part of the state.

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