There are so many side trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, that it can be difficult to choose between investing an entire day hiking them all the way through or just popping in to check out a short section. The Tanawha Trail, with its eight parking areas along a 13.5 mile stretch, conveniently following along the Blue Ridge Parkway, makes for a perfect trail to section hike whenever the free time allows for it.
On a previous day, we decided to section hike the Rough Ridge Area at milepost 302.8, climbing its famous craggy balds, to get an unparalleled view of the southern peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This time around we decided to drop by the Stack Rock Area on milepost 304.8, to see this iconic boulder whose “stack” can be seen poking out through the forest canopy as you drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Located in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain, this was a short 1.2 mile out and back hike, that we used as an early morning warmup to visiting Grandfather Mountain State Park. From the parking area, Stack Rock is a mere 0.6 miles, but if you think it’ll be an easy stroll through the woods, you’re quite mistaken.
Stack Rock is known for being one of the more strenuous areas of the Tanawha Trail. Most of this section traverses through a dense understory of gnarled and weathered rhododendrons, with twisted roots sticking up above the soil line. So much of our time was spent navigating the roots, carefully choosing each step so as to not stumble and trip over ourselves. To add insult to injury, a steady rain through the early evening hours, aided by the churning of hikers through this heavily trafficked trail, turned most of the path into a muddy mess.
What this trail lacks in scenic vistas, it makes up for with its technical maneuvering, which will force you to pay attention to every single step you make. Make sure to wear some sturdy boots as you’ll be doing quite a bit of scrambling, climbing, and jumping over on your way to Stack Rock. One of the highlights of this trail is the variety of whimsical and oddly stacked boulders found along the way. There were so many in fact, that it was hard to tell which landmark was the one we were there to see.
After quite a bit of guessing, we finally arrived at a massive two-story boulder which we presumed to be Stack Rock. Coming from the direction of the parking area, its difficult to see the top of the boulder until you’re standing directly below it. A staircase leads up to a boardwalk surrounding the rock, giving you a better vantage point to see the thin stacks of rock piled high on top of the massive base.
Walking around to the opposite end of the boardwalk and down the steps, this rock looks like it was perfectly chiseled out of a single block. One rock, two different vantage points, unless you count seeing it from the Parkway above.
At this point, the trail levels out and becomes an easy stroll through the woods until reaching the Linn Cove Viaduct Area. From there, the Linn Cove Visitors Center offers an in depth exhibit on the construction of the viaduct as well as an opportunity to hike underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since the visitors center was closed for the season, we decided to turn back.
Each area of the Tanawha Trail has its own unique features, making it hard not to want to see it all. Next time you travel along North Carolinas' Blue Ridge Parkway, plan a stop along the Tanawha Trail to experience all of its splendid beauty!