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Crowders Mountain & Kings Pinnacle Hike

posted Jan 21, 2013, 10:03 AM by Justin P
This past Saturday, we headed to Crowders Mountain State Park for a day hike.  The previous week had lousy weather, being rainy most of the week and then a small snowstorm, but Saturday was forecast to be a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 50s.  I had only been to the park once before, almost exactly a year ago, and the weather was rainy and cold, so I was really looking forward to visiting Crowders Mountain on a nicer day and enjoying the scenic views across the Piedmont.  I met Jim around 630 in Morrisville and we carpooled out to the park, arriving around 9.  Everyone else arrived shortly thereafter and we set out from the visitor center around 930.  We started hiking along the Crowders/Pinnacle Trail past the Visitor Center and turned right to stay on the Crowders Trail.  After about a mile, we reached the street crossing at Sparrow Springs/Freedom Mill road.  Across the street, we headed right to stay on the Crowders Trail, running along the western end of the mountain.  This trail is fairly moderate with only small gains in elevation as it slowly winds up towards the summit and ending at an old road bed up the mountain, which is the Backside Trail.  Rather than turn right and head straight up the mountain, we decided to extend our hike a bit and go right and then take the Tower Trail up the mountain.  Heading in this direction, the trail goes down until it reaches the terminus at the Linwood Access Area and then the Tower Trail goes back up.  Thus, we knew that going down now would mean that much more up before we reached the summit.  The Tower Trail is also an old gravel road that heads up to the summit, starting out gradually and growing ever more steep as the trail approaches the top.  There was a 10 MPH speed limit sign along the trail, suggesting that this road is still used for vehicle traffic heading up to the radio towers.  At the top, we passed the radio towers and stopped along the cliffs at the summit to eat lunch.  The weather was absolutely beautiful and we had great views of the surrounding landscape, including the Charlotte skyline in the distance.  Being such a nice day, there were a lot of people up here enjoying the views and even a few climbers scaling the cliffs.  After lunch, we spent some time exploring around on the summit, climbing and scrambling over rocks and cliffs, and then started our hike back.  To minimize backtracking and make a loop, we headed back on the Rocktop Trail, the most fun trail to hike in my opinion.  The trail splits off from the Tower Trail just below the radio towers and follows the ridgeline of Crowders Mountain.  Much of the trail crosses narrow ledges and cliffs, requiring rocks scambling and careful footing, and there are fabulous rocks formations all along the length of the trail.  At the end, the trail heads down the mountain and meets up with the Crowders Trail where the trail crosses the street.  Here, we followed the Crowders Trail back to the Visitor Center to use the restrooms and get more water.  Heidi and John, who were camping out for the night, grabbed their backpacks from the parking lot and we headed back out on the trail, this time turning left to hike the Pinnacle Trail.  After a short ways, we made a quick detour on the Family Campground Trail and stopped so that John & Heidi could set up their tents, then headed back to main trail.  Looking up, I could see King's Pinnacle towering above us, and knowing the trail wasn't very long, we were in for a good climb.  As the trail ascends the mountain, it starts out gradually with a few switchbacks and then its just straight up.  For some reason, I was under the impression that the hike up to King's Pinnacle was easier the the one up to Crowders.  Maybe in terms of mileage, but the Pinnacle Trail gains more elevation in a shorter distance and this definitely seemed to be the more challenging hike.  After the trail ends, it was a short scramble up some rocks to reach the summit and then wonderful views in all directions.  Short trails leading off to various parts of the summit provided views in all directions - we could again see the Charlotte skyline to the east, and the mountains to west.  We spent about an hour up here taking pictures, resting, and enjoying the views.  John & Heidi were staying up for the sunset as they weren't leaving the park.  But the rest of us needed to get out before the park closed, so we said good-bye and made our way back down the mountain.  About three-quarters of a mile down the trail, we turned right onto the Turnback Trail and followed this back to the parking lot and starting heading back to Raleigh.  We stopped in Gastonia for dinner and drinks along the way.
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