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Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is a park in Orange County.  Located just off I-85, the park is in the town of Hillsborough, north of Chapel Hill and west of Durham.  The park is administered through Eno River State Park.

Occoneechee Mountain, a Piedmont monadnock, rises more than 350 feet above the Eno River to an elevation of 867 feet - the highest point in Orange County and between the Atlantic Ocean and Hillsborough.  The environment around Occoneechee Mountain has changed little since the last Ice Age and supports life normally found much further west in mountain environments.  The brown elfin butterfly is one such example that is isolated to the natural area with the nearest populations 100 miles west.  During the 1600s, the Occaneechi band of the Saponi Native Americans built a village at a bend in the Eno River near the natural area.  Later, European immigrants settled in the area and a mill village occupied the area until the 1950s.  The State Park system first purchased land to establish the natural area in 1997 and additional acquisitions have grown the park to its present 190 acres.

Contact Information:

6101 Cole Mill Road
Durham, NC 27705-9275

Phone: (919) 383-1686


GPS Coordinates:
36.060835, -79.116900


From I-85 between the I-40 split and Durham, take exit 164. Go north on Churton Street (towards Hillsborough) and then left at the stoplight onto Mayo Street.  At the stop sign, turn left onto Orange Grove Road and then take the second right onto Virginia Cates Road and follow into the park.



Brown Elfin Knob Trail:

Length: 0.1 miles (one way)
Blaze: Blue Circles

The Brown Elfin Knob Trail starts at the eastern end of the park at a split with Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail and runs for a tenth of a mile over the summit of Brown Elfin Knob.  The trail ends at Chestnut Oak Trail near the intersection with Overlook Trail.  The trail and knob are named for the Brown Elfin Butterfly, a common butterfly in the mountains but rare in the Piedemont.

Chestnut Oak Trail:

Length: 0.9 miles (loop)
Blaze: Orange Circles

Chestnut Oak Trail starts near the parking area and follows the service road up the mountain.  After the intersection with Overlook Trail, Chestnut Oak Trail splits off from the service road and circles the flank of the mountain.  The other end of the trail is at Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail, about 0.4 miles from the trailhead.

Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail:

Length: 2.2 miles (loop)
Blaze: Red Circles

The Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail starts from behind the restrooms at the parking area and travels around the south and west of Occoneechee Mountain.  There are some nice rock outcrops along the trail.

The trail then descends to the Eno River on the north side of the mountain.

It follows along the south bank of the river for a ways then heads up past the quarry and around Brown Elfin Knob before ending at the service road near the fishing ponds.  The Overlook and Brown Elfin Knob Trails intersect the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail, the former just past the quarry and the latter along the east side of Brown Elfin Knob.

Overlook Trail:

Length: 0.15 miles (one way)
Blaze: Yellow

The Overlook Trail is a short trail that runs from the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail near the quarry to Chestnut Oak Trail/service roa.  Along the way, it passes a scenic overlook along the cliffs above the quarry with nice views of the Eno River and the town of Hillsborough.


Flowering Trees and Shrubs:

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a beautiful small tree with pink buds and flowers that sometimes grown right out of the bark.  These trees are common throughout the Piedmont and can be found at lower elevations in the park.

Blog Entries:

26-Mar-2017: Occoneechee Mountain & Cole Mill

External Links:

NC State Parks website: https://www.ncparks.gov/occoneechee-mountain-state-natural-area