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South Mountains State Park

South Mountains State Park is a park in the Burke County, between Asheville and Charlotte.  The park protects a portion of the South Mountains, an isolated range separated from the Blue Ridge Mountains by the Catawba River Valley.  One of the largest parks in the state park system at over 19,000 acres, the park contains over 40 miles of hiking trails, equestrian trails, developed and primitive campsites, and several picnic areas nestled within the mountains.  The park's most popular landmark is High Shoals Falls, a beautiful 80-foot waterfall on Jacob Fork River.

Contact Information:

3001 South Mountain Park Avenue
Connelly SpringsNC 28612

Phone: 828-433-4772


South Mountains State Park is located in southern Burke County about 20 miles south of Morganton.  From I-40 in Morganton, take exit 106 and go south on NC-18.  In 11 miles, turn right on Sugarloaf Road and go 4.3 miles.  Turn left on Old NC-18 and go 2.7 miles and turn right on Ward Gap Road.  Follow this road into the park.



Chestnut Knob Trail:

Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Blaze: White Diamond
Use: Hiking only

Chestnut Knob Trail starts from High Shoals Falls Loop Trail, 0.2 miles from the parking area.  It ascends steeply for the first mile via long switchbacks and starts to level off as it comes to Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook.  High Shoals Falls is visible, but the view is best in winter when the leaves are down.  The trail continues to ascend, but more gradually, eventually reach a split near the summit of Chestnut Knob.  Left goes to the Chestnut Knob Overlook and right passes the summit and ends at Sawtooth Trail.

Headquarters Trail:

Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Blaze: Orange Hexagon
Use: Hiking and mountain biking

Headquarters (HQ) Trail starts from High Shoals Falls Loop Trail 0.5 miles from the trailhead right after the bridge over Shinny Creek.  The trail follows the creek up to Shinny Creek backcountry campsite where Shinny Trail begins.  From here, it gets steep and heads up to its terminus at Upper Falls Trail.

High Shoals Falls Loop Trail:

Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Blaze: Blue Square
Use: Hiking and equestrian for first half-mile, then hiking only

High Shoals Falls Loop Trail is the most popular trail in the park as it leads to the beautiful waterfall.  From the Jacob Fork Parking Area, the first half-mile is shared with mountain bikers.  Chestnut Knob Trail splits to the right in a quarter mile and Headquarters Trail after a half mile.  The trail is hiking only past this point.  Shortly, there is a split to form the loop.  Going left the trail follows Jacob Fork upstream, eventually crossing the river on a long footbridge.  From here, the trail is steep as many stairs lead up to the base of High Shoals Falls.  More stairs lead up past the top of the waterfall and then the trail crosses the creek again and joins up with Upper Falls Trail.  In about another 0.5 miles, Upper Falls Trail goes left and High Shoals Falls Loop bears right to loop back to the split.

Horseridge Trail:

Length: 3.3 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Blaze: Orange Square
Use: Hiking and equestrian

Horseridge Trail is a remote trail connecting Upper and Lower CCC Trails, running along a ridgeline in the north of the park.  Sawtooth and Possum Trails also branch off from Horseridge.

Possum Trail:

Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Blaze: Red Square
Use: Hiking only

Possum Trail starts at Shinny Trail and ascends steeply to Horseridge Trail.  This trail can be used to make a loop with Chestnut Knob Trail.

Sawtooth Trail:

Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Blaze: Blue Hexagon
Use: Hiking and equestrian

Sawtooth Trail starts at Upper CCC Trail and leads about a mile to Chestnut Knob Trail, passing the Sawtooth backcountry campsites.  In about a half-mile past Chestnut Knob Trail, there is a clearing with nice views of the mountains and picnic table to have a scenic lunch.  The trail ends at Horseridge Trail.

Shinny Trail:

Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Blaze: Blue Diamond
Use: Hiking only

Shinny Trail starts at the Shinny Creek backcountry campsite at Headquarters Trail.  The trail follows the creek for a while, passing Possum trail at about 0.4 miles.  After following the creek for a while, it ascends steeply to end at Upper Falls Trail.

Upper Falls Trail:

Length: 3.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Blaze: White Square
Use: Hiking only

Upper Falls Trail starts at Raven Rock Trail and crosses Jacob Fork above High Shoals Falls.  After splitting with High Shoals Falls Loop Trail, it ascends to Lower CCC Trail.

Points of Interest:

Chestnut Knob Overlook:

Chestnut Knob Overlook is at the end of Chestnut Knob Trail, about 2.3 miles from the trailhead at High Shoals Falls Loop Trail.  In about 2 miles from the trailhead, there is a split near the summit of Chestnut Knob.  Right goes to Sawmill Trail and left goes to the overlook.  The overlook has nice views of the Jacob Fork River Gorge and Shinny Creek.

High Shoals Falls:

High Shoals Falls is a beautiful waterfall on Jacob Fork.  The park claims it is 80 feet high, but the part you can see from the overlook is not that high.  There are cascades above and below the waterfall so not sure where they consider the top and bottom.  The waterfall is located along High Shoals Falls Loop Trail about a mile from the parking lot.  At the split, the left fork is the shorter route to the waterfall.

Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook:

Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook is located about 1.2 miles up Chestnut Knob Trail from the trailhead at High Shoals Falls Loop Trail.  The overlook provides a nice view into the gorges formed by Jacob Fork and Shinny Creek.  High Shoals Falls is visible across the gorge, but it is mostly obscured by trees in the summer.


Carolina lily (Lilium michauxii) is the state wildflower of North Carolina.

Mushrooms along Upper Falls Trail.

This box turtle (Terrapene carolina) was hiking, albeit slowly, along Horseridge Trail.

I spotted this large grasshopper along Possum Trail.

A rather large blue crayfish in Shinny Creek.

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