Sunday, April 20, 2014

Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail

Hike: Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Hike Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Hike Distance (Round Trip): (supposedly) 2.2 miles
Time (Round Trip): 1-2 hours
Elevation: A whopping 867 feet! (Highest point in Orange County, North Carolina)

We didn't move to the Piedmont of North Carolina for the hiking. There are a lot of other fantastic things to do here and I will miss Durham when we leave, but I won't really miss the hiking. That being said, there are some great trails to go out and enjoy if you are ok without big sprawling vistas and with lots and lots of trees (which come along with lots of roots in the trails, so you have to watch your feet). Spring is the perfect season for hiking around here, because all of the trees are flowering and turning green but there isn't so much vegetation that the sun can't get through. And of course, most importantly, the humidity is low and the insects and spiders are not out in full force yet. 

We had never been to Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area before, but had a very lovely morning hike there this April weekend. The trail is pretty easy to follow and they have trail maps that you can take with you at the trailhead parking lot (see driving directions at the end of this post), so I'm not going to go into great detail with step-by-step directions for the hike. 

We hiked Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail clockwise and started at the trailhead up the hill from the bathroom and trail map stand.  Along the way, we saw many cool rock formations. At about a mile or so in, the trail follows along the Eno River for awhile before heading back up the "mountain" towards the lookout. I recommend taking little side detours to see the Occoneechee Quarry and the lookout over the Eno River. 

 Amazing bark on a tree that we had to climb over on the trail. 

At the sign below, we went right to explore the abandoned pre-Civil War era quarry. The quarry rock walls are composed of sericite, quartz, and pyrophyllite minerals, which makes them a white-ish color.

After checking out the quarry, we headed back to the trail sign and continued on (and up) the Occoneechee Loop Trail.

Hard to escape signs of civilization on hikes in the Piedmont, but it didn't seem to bother me much on this hike. We could hear Highway 85 for the first little bit of the trail, but mostly it was wind blowing through the trees and quite pleasant.

At the junction below, we continued straight toward the lookout and then came back to this sign and continued on the Loop Trail. There are other trails that could be short cuts, but we wanted to complete the loop.

View of the Eno River from the Lookout

Driving Directions from Durham
1. Take 85 South to exit 164 for Hillsborough.
2. Turn right on Old NC 86. 
3. Turn left on Mayo Street.
4. Turn left on Orange Grove Road.
5. Turn right on Virginia Cates Road. Continue on this road past a little pond (look for turtles!) until you see the parking area on your left. There are signs for Occoneechee Mountain after you get off 85 and they are really easy to follow.