Stone Mountain State Park is located in the sleepy, high-country town of Roaring Gap, North Carolina. So sleepy in fact that it has less than 200 residents and not a stop light to speak of, yet it swells with visitors from all over the country every summer. The summit of this park is a be viewed from several popular overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, several miles away. This place has some of the best climbing in the entire state, bringing adventure seekers here to attempt to summit the 600 ft granite dome. Within the 14,000 acres of this state park are creeks and streams known for their excellent brook trout fishing, comparable only to the streams in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Earlier in the day we hiked to Stone Mountain Falls to view the 200 ft waterfall cascading down a granite cliff, into a natural pool at the bottom of Big Sandy Creek. That hike was one heck of a workout, especially having to climb back up the bi-gillion steps. just off the Upper Trailhead parking lot. There are a lot of great trails in this park that lead to incredible overlooks and vistas of this high country mountain valley. One of them is Stone Mountain Loop Trail which runs a 4.5 mile loop over the summit of the 600 ft granite dome and back down to the bottom just below the face of the cliff. The trail that I recommend hiking for an even better view of the park and the mountains beyond is the Wolf Rock to Cedar Rock Trail loop.
These two trails lead to a craggy bald atop a wooded ridge just in front of Stone Mountain, connecting to the view side of the Stone Mountain Loop. The views are incredible and worth hiking to. To reach the trailhead, drive over to the Lower Trailhead parking area. If you’re interested in visiting the Hutchinson Homestead, this is the easiest way to get to it as well. A small set of steps lead behind the restrooms towards a large trailhead.
From this intersection you have three options; take the left trail to hike the summit, go straight to hike the view side, or take a hard right to hike the Wolf and Cedar Rock Trail. If you hike the full length of Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock, it’ll eventually loop back to this point, bringing you out the middle path. Obviously you’ll want to take the hard right pointing to Wolf Rock, crossing over the creek along the wood bridge.
From here the beginning of the trail is actually quite strenuous. The first quarter mile is made up of switchbacks climbing up the steep hillside. A downed tree smack in the middle of the trail, made things interesting as you had to climb over and through the massive branches to get by.
Next we hiked through a living tunnel of rhododendron blooms, filling the air with their sweet perfume. Throw in a bit of musk from the forests mulch and the sweet sappy scent of balsam from the canopy of conifers and it was a perfect blend fit for an air freshener.
This trail is full of things to see, big and small. Just on the left you should be able to see Stone Mountain, just beyond the trees. Its a small preview for whats to come. Gigantic moss covered boulders crowd the top of steep slopes in every direction. Look down and you’ll notice wild mushrooms of every shape and color.
We were lucky to spot ,what we believe to be a few chanterelles and chicken of the woods. Both of these are culinary delicacies and yield a high price in farmers markets. They’re prized by chefs for their peculiar flavors. Chicken of the woods is noted to taste somewhat like real chicken, while chanterelles had a milder peppery taste.
At this point you might have noticed all of the charred tree stumps. This is whats left of a more recent prescribed burn within the state park. Between November and June of this year, rangers conducted a burn of approximately 1,500 acres. The largest of these was a 650 acre burn on the escarpment of Stone Mountain itself. Prescribed burns are used as a resource management tool by many state and national park systems. Some plant communities and animal species rely on periodic fire for their existence.
Once you reach the three trail intersection, follow the path leading straight and it’ll exit out onto a large stone escarpment known as Wolf Rock. If you brought me here blindfolded and told me we where in the Great Smoky Mountains, I would believe you.
You can’t get a better view of North Carolinas high country, besides maybe from Mount Jefferson. The soft rolling peaks have an endearing beauty thats hard to describe. While you enjoy the scenery, take caution not to wander too far down the cliff as the smooth stone can be slippery and people have been known to fall off the mountain.
Returning back to Wolf Rock trail, after a quarter mile hike the trail will exit out onto another much larger escarpment known as Cedar Rock. This time the views open up to face the front of Stone Mountains granite dome. My son describe the dome as a strange looking alien spaceship rising out of the forest. From here we could see other hikers moving around the summit in the form of tiny dots. Depending on the day, this would be a great spot to watch climbers attempting to reach the summit of Stone Mountain.
The gorgeous views and clear sky inspired us to sit here a while and enjoy a picnic while we rested for the next leg of the hike. If you’re feeling adventurous, from here you could head onto the Black Jack Ridge Trail, adding an extra 1.5 miles to the hike. Or you could chose to do as we did and finish the Cedar Rock Trail to the Stone Mountain Loop while hiking along the view side of the mountain.
Take the opportunity to stop by the Hutchinson Homestead near the end of the trail. The preserved homestead provides a personal insight into the lives of the first settlers to scratch out a living in the harsh terrain of North Carolinas high country. Stay tuned for the next leg of our trip into Virginias, Grayson Highland State Park!