Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stone Mountain Loop Trail 7/8/2011

This hike is in Stone Mountain State Park in North Carolina not the other stone mountain.  As we entered the empty upper trail head parking lot there was a deer grazing nearby.  There are restrooms and a soda machine available here.  We followed a family of wild turkeys on the .3 mile connector trail.  There are advantages to being first to the trail head.  Later in the morning the trail got busier.

The connector trail ends by an old chimney.  We turned right here toward the upper half of the loop.  The trail here is wide and smooth like a road with no steps all the way to the top.  I imagine emergency vehicles can access the top from this side.  We went through woods with a few flowers and lots of mushrooms.  We heard a turkey calling and a crow complaining.  

The trail passes an outcrop of granite with a good view then returns to the woods before a second outcrop section.  At this point we had a view of the peak ahead as well as what I believe was Wolf Rock to the left.  There are warning signs along the way to stay on the trail as the rock can be slippery and suddenly becomes very steep as it drop off the side of the mountain.

After this second outcrop area the trail drops into a very small saddle before climbing more steeply with a couple of switchbacks.  A black snake crossed the trail and curled up on the fence waiting for us and another hiker to take our pictures and move away.  The trail levels out more and a short time later at 1.7 miles from the parking lot we reached the peak.

The peak area was full of potholes but the rock surface was smooth.  The signs said the elevation was 3205 feet and we were 1.6 miles from the Hutchinson Homestead.  We enjoyed the views including the parkway in the distance then headed along the ridge through more wooded areas and outcrops to where the serious drop began.

As we reached the end of the ridge area there was a wire handrail for the last hundred feet of so  to the top of the stairs.   I noticed that the trees here are short but very green and healthy looking.  They appear to be growing out of the rocks.  No longer is the trail like a road.  From here we began a serious descent.  There were wooden stairs and rock stairs with sections of dirt trail inbetween. 

At the bottom of this section we crossed the handicap only road to the homestead and began a gentle walk on a more natural trail.  The trail passes very near the lower parking lot with restroom and a water vending machine.  It then follows a pretty little stream for a half mile to the homestead.  The rhododendrons were in bloom along this section.

The Hutchinson Homestead was a house and several outbuildings  The buildings are only open on the weekend.  There is a bridge to cross from the trail to the house.  The mountain is right in front of you here with a clear view.  There are several benchs in the field area facing the big rock.  If you follow the road through the homestead you come back out on the trail.

Beyond the homestead the trail is once again more like an old road following a small creek.  We could hear a woodpecker on the hill to the left and see minnow in the creek on our right.  There were foot bridges over the water although we chose to follow the road and step across the creek at the ford in a couple of places.  About a mile down we came to the trail down to middle and lower falls.

It is a half mile down to middle falls and a mile down to the lower falls.  The road like trail actually turns down this way.  Before middle falls we left the wide trail at a sign  and went down a steep rooted trail to the falls.  They are a steep slide with a pool at the bottom that are pretty but hard to photograph.  To reach lower falls you would return to the intersection and continue downhill but we headed back up.

Back on the loop trail we were now following a larger creek with lots of pretty cascades along the way.  The trail is again narrower and more natural.  The air temperature was pleasant for a hot summer day.  This part of the trail was busier with people enjoying the water.  It wasn't long before we reached the steps leading to the bottom of Stone Mountain Falls. 

The falls are 200 feet high but didn't have a lot of water falling.  They must really be impressive during the Spring melt.  There were several groups of people enjoying the rocks and water at the bottom of the falls.  There is room to climb around and take pictures from different angles if you are careful.  We are almost finished with the 4.5 mile loop at this point but have 200 plus feet of elevation to gain.

We climbed a couple hundred wood steps then  and took a break at the upper overlook looking down over the main section of the falls.  You had to stay on the platform here as it is a long first step from here.  There were still more steps and a steep walk up the rock slab beside a railing to go.  Once at the top the connector trail was right around the corner.

We walked about six miles today but there are many more miles of trails in this park.  Perhaps we will return to explore some of the less traveled trails.  The loop trail is child friendly and there is a nice picnic area in the park.  One other spot we did visit in the park was Widow's Creek Falls.  It is a pretty falls only a couple hundred feet off the park road with places where you can play in the water.

No comments:

Post a Comment