Hiking 3 North Carolina mountains
Kevin Myatt | The Roanoke Times
Mike Kirby (blue shirt) of Cary, N.C., his daughters Felicia, 9, (left) and Tamarin, 12, and nephew Anthony Zientek, 15, of Florida return from the edge of Hanging Rock.
Kevin Myatt | The Roanoke Times
Stone Mountain's rounded face is inviting for rock climbers.
- Where? Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain state parks in North Carolina.
- How far? Each of the three parks is only 2-2 1/2 hours from Roanoke, and if you study a North Carolina map and get an early jump, you can make all three before the sun sets on a summer day.
- The easiest route from Roanoke to each park is described below (but you're on your own to figure out how to get from one to another):
- Hanging Rock -- Follow US 220 south to 5 miles past the state line, then turn right (west) on N.C. 770 for 19 miles, then left (or south) on N.C. 8 for 8 miles to the park.
- Pilot Mountain -- Follow I-81 south to its intersection with I-77 in Wythe County, then south on I-77 to exit 101 located 4 miles south of the state line. Take U.S. 52 for 18 miles to the park, clearly marked by signs. The mountain is the most striking thing visible for many miles.
- Stone Mountain -- Follow above route, except remain on I-77 to Exit 83, then go west on N.C. 67 for 12 miles to Thurmond. Follow the signs from there.
- Why go? To hike to 3 exciting "monadnocks," or isolated, exposed rock mountains standing out above the otherwise level to gently rolling Piedmont. At Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain, you'll be looking out across plains from elevations up to 2,500 feet, so the view is vast on a clear day. Stone Mountain gives you more of the expected crumpled mountain vista.
- For more information: logon to the North Carolina parks and recreation Web site.
No, I haven't run out of places in Virginia to review. Far from it.
But sometimes there's a psychological advantage to putting a state line between your day off and the rest of your life. And that's what I did recently when I traveled across the North Carolina line and made a day tour of three state parks for short dayhikes, the first a little less than two hours driving time from Roanoke.
All three -- Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain -- are centered around the same theme: Big rocks jutting out of the gently rolling Piedmont.
Plateau- or mesa-like formations of this nature are called "monadnocks." These monadnocks are part of the Sauratown Mountains, an ancient range that time has eroded into isolated rocky outcroppings and wooded knobs above the plains of northern North Carolina.
Although the three parks nearly line up east to west across the northern tier of North Carolina, there are no highways that make access between the three direct in any sense. However, any one individual park is simple to get to from Roanoke. You'll find driving directions on the left.
Doggy Cindy and I hiked a total of about 8 miles in the parks -- 3 at Hanging Rock, 1 at Pilot Mountain and 4 at Stone Mountain. With the exception of a side trip to visit some waterfalls at Hanging Rock, this was about the minimum distance needed to visit the parks' most popular highlights.
As viewed from the top of Hanging Rock, the water towers of myriad Mayberrys stick out of the Carolina landscape like quills on a porcupine's back.
On a day of crisp visibility, like the one I was blessed with during a cool respite between hot spells in early June, the skyline of Winston-Salem pokes out of the trees on the horizon some 25 miles south. That skyline is also a reminder that, on many fair weekends, all three of these parks can get crowded with folks getting out of Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
The hike to Pilot Knob is the easiest of the three, largely because it never scales the sheer bluffs to the very top of the mountain.
Decades ago when this mountain was privately owned, a system of ladders took visitors to the tip-top of the monandock. Today, it is closed to hikers and climbers to protect nesting raptors.
The Jomeokee Trail, instead, circles along the base of the bluff line below the mountaintop (Jomeokee is a Saura Indian word for "Great Guide").
Stone Mountain was my favorite of the three hikes. It's just like it's namesake outside Atlanta -- a big, polished granite dome -- except it has more trees on top and there's no etching of Robert E. Lee on the side of it.
North Carolina's Stone Mountain is all natural, and what a treat it is. The views from the top, which take in a collection of surrounding mountains, are stunning.
The trail goes up and over the granite dome, then traces a ridgeline with occasional views before arriving at a marvelous waterfall that runs down the slick rock like a water slide.
A lengthy system of wooden steps leads down the side of the waterfall, past a couple of viewing decks, to a glorious rest spot beneath the waterfall. I could have spent many hours sitting on those rocks, soaking up the cool splashing water.
From there, the trail follows the tumbling creek and then comes out to an open meadow with a mesmerizing view looking up at the mountain. As I did, you may see rock climbers negotiating the face of the mountain.
The wonderful thing about all these parks is that there are many miles of trails in each. Considering that the three trails I hiked to the namesake features of each park get the most traffic, one might find more solitude on other trails.
North Carolina is definitely worth a visit.