Weekend Camping at Hanging Rock State Park
While a few millennia of erosion has leveled the once mighty Sauratown Mountains, time has done little to diminish their awe-inspiring beauty at Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina. Along with the better known and larger Appalachian range to the north and west, the isolated Sauratowns were once 20,000 ft tall, rivaling those found in the Rockies. Now, they are a regional treasure for a whole host of outdoor activities including camping, hiking, and rock climbing.
What time has left in its wake are the least vulnerable rock formations – made of quartzite – that make up the most visited of the park's features. The outcroppings rising +2500ft can be seen for dozens of miles as you approach on Highway 72. Perhaps the most visible outcroppings are Moores Knob (2,579ft) to the east of the park and Pilot Mountain (2,421ft) on the range's western edge.
Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina
You'd be right if you guessed that a picture-perfect fall weekend would attract campers, hikers, and climbers to Hanging Rock's 7,000+ acres. Daytime highs in the mid-60's with overnight lows in the mid-30's, low humidity, and clear skies are really hard to resist after a summer that didn't want to give itself up. Crowds are a way of life when you venture outdoors in the East but not a showstopper - if you time your hikes like a local.
Hiking Hanging Rock Trail
The crown jewel of the Sauratown range hikes is the park's namesake, Hanging Rock Trail. It's THE hike that everyone that comes through the gates wants to see. By 9:30am you can expect a steady stream of visitors making the 2.6 mile round-trip trek to the peak and back. If you happen to be camping at one of the 73 campsites within the park, then the work of beating the crowds just got a whole lot easier. Get an early start and hit the trailhead by 8am, you'll be way out ahead of the day trippers and back to camp in time for a hearty, well-earned feast.
Hanging Rock Trail is a trail of three personalities. The first third is a gentle, rolling paved sidewalk that is likely to lull the less traveled into thinking that this is going to be a walk in the park! But don't be fooled by its commonplace appearance. The stroll soon gives way to a steep but wide gravel climb that –while short– is the first test of your commitment and makes up the bulk of the hike's 650ft elevation gain. The middle third finishes with a flat path that slowly narrows and steepens to the Hanging Rock pinnacle.
- Hike early for smaller crowds - start before 8:30am
- Round trip mileage: 2.6 miles - steep and a scramble near the end (benches along the way)
- Not stroller friendly
The last push to the top begins with warning signs and a staircase of 6x6 timbers that winds through the granite and slowly narrows as you quickly gain elevation. This gives way to granite steps punctuated by a few scrambles that level off just before the Hanging Rock outcropping. Near 270 degree views of the area from 2,579ft are the payoff for the effort.
Hiking Window Falls and Hidden Falls Trail
One of the things that makes Hanging Rock State Park attractive is that it's not all big hikes and scenic outcroppings. Introduce smaller children to hiking with the Window Falls-Hidden Falls Trail. Coming in at a mile round trip, this easy hike has some amazing water features.
The Lake at Hanging Rock State Park
Fishing, Swimming, Boating
Back in the 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps dammed up the Cascade Creek, creating a small 12-acre, picturesque lake that, along with the Park's Visitors Center, forms the heart of Hanging Rock State Park. A groomed sand beach lines one side where swimming, boating, and fishing the stocked lake are popular seasonal activities.
- Fishing: Anyone over 16 years old must have a NC fishing license
- Swimming Area: summer months only- Fees $6/day for adults (13 and over); $4/day for children (ages 3-12)
- Boating: Rental Fees for canoes/rowboats: $7/hour (available daily summer; weekends only spring/fall)
Hanging Rock State Park Visitor Center
The visitors center has a small gift shop and education rooms. You can also obtain park information and your park stamp from the rangers at the reception desk.
Things to Know:
- No entrance fees for Hanging Rock State Park
- Visitor Center hours: 9am - 4:45pm daily; closed Christmas Day
- Hanging Rock State Park: gates open at 7am; closing varies with the season - see website for details.
- Public restrooms accessible from outside the visitor center hours
Hiking Wolf Rock-House Rock-Cook's Wall Trail
The Wolf Rock, House Rock, and Cook's Wall trifecta is the perfect hike to fill the time while everyone else hikes the main event back at Hanging Rock. The three highlights along this ridge are in no way less beautiful or awe inspiring, but definitely less trafficked during a weekend or holiday peak.
The trailhead to these three outcroppings share the same approach as the first part of the Hanging Rock Trail. After a half mile, tack off to the right at the sign for Wolf Rock Trail that runs along a west-southwest ridge that ends at Cooks Wall some three miles from the break. You'll not see a great elevation gain/loss for most of the trek as the trail meanders through pine scrub, rhododendron tunnels, and mountain laurel ecologies.
Breathtaking views at each of the outcroppings also lend themselves to bird watching. The resident population of soaring vultures shares the thermals with migrating hawks in the fall. If you are familiar with the geography of North Carolina, it's fun to pick out the city skylines visible in the distance. Greensboro and Winston-Salem are clearly visible, but under the best of conditions, you might see as far as Charlotte and Raleigh.