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Early Fall Color at Hanging Rock

posted Oct 7, 2013, 7:51 AM by Justin P   [ updated Oct 22, 2013, 10:10 AM ]

This past weekend, we headed out to Hanging Rock State Park for an early autumn day hike.  This hike was actually a training hike – Joe is coaching hikers to prepare for the Ultimate Hike, a charity event to raise money for children’s cancer.  But with only one person in training today, he decided to open it up to more people and I hopped at the opportunity for a nice hike at Hanging Rock.  We left Cary at 7 in two carpools – one that planned to hike all day and another for those who were only up for a shorter hike.  Arriving at the park shortly after 9, I was surprised to see the parking lot so empty.  Hanging Rock is a very popular spot, especially on a nice fall weekend.  And with the partial federal government shutdown, state parks are the only real alternative to the closed national parks.  So I was surprised to see the parking lot so empty (although that would change soon).  After getting ready, we hiked along the road towards the lake and boat house.  Although it was certainly before peak fall color, we were starting to see some early leaf color, particularly among the sourwood trees, whose leaves had changed to a brilliant shade of light red, almost the color of pink lemonade.  Stopping along the edge of Hanging Rock Lake, we viewed and took some pictures of the colorful foliage across the lake and in the brilliant reflections on the extremely calm water.

Hanging Rock Lake

From here, we hiked on to the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail/Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the clockwise direction past the lake and the campgrounds through a dense rhododendron forest.  After the intersection with the Magnolia Springs Trail, a connector to Cook’s Wall Trail and the rocky outcrops on the south side of the park, the trail began to get steeper and steeper as it climbed up Moore’s Wall to the highest point in the park.  It wasn’t terribly hot today, but the temperature and humidity made for a sweaty hike up the steep rocky trail.  Eventually, the trail reaches the ridgeline along Moore’s Wall and the levels out a bit, with many scenic rock formations and cliffs along the trail, before the final push up to the summit of Moore’s Knob.  At 2,579 feet above sea level, this is the highest point in the park and in the Sauratown Mountain Range.  At more than 1000 feet above the surrounding countryside, there were beautiful views in all directions.  And to make it even better, there is an old lookout tower on the summit that provides wonderful panoramic views in all directions.  Today was a little hazy, so the visibility was not the best.  When visibility is good, it is possible to see the skyline of Winston-Salem, 30 miles to the south and the Blue Ridge Escarpment to the west and north.  While we  couldn’t see this far today, we could see Sauratown and Pilot Mountain to the west and early fall color throughout the surrounding landscape.

View of Pilot Mountain and Sauratown Mountain from Moore's Knob

After relaxing for a bit after the strenuous climb and getting some pictures, we hiked back down the mountain, finishing out the loop back at the campground.  Once back at the parking area, about half the group decided that they had had enough and were ready to head home.

Early Fall Color on Moore's Wall Loop Trail

But Joe, Susan, and I would be continuing on for another 7 or so miles along the Indian Creek Trail.  We stopped at the picnic area for a quick lunch for getting back on the trail.  I had only hiked a short portion of this trail before – the 0.6 miles to Window Falls and back, so I was excited to explore a new part of the park.  And it was clear that I was not the only one who only had hiked a short portion of this trail.  The first half mile of the trail to Hidden and Window Falls was extremely crowded as well as the area around the waterfalls.  We stopped at these smaller waterfalls for a couple of pictures, but didn’t stay long with the crowds.

Hidden Falls

Window Falls

Once past Window Falls, though, we barely saw anyone else on the trail.  The trail was surprisingly steep and narrow with a couple of easy stream crossings that we had no trouble rock-hopping across to keep our feet dry.  After about a mile past the falls, the trail crosses Hanging Rock Park Road near the park gate.  There was an old dilapidated barn just past the road crossing, maybe a tobacco barn, that looked like there may be plans to restore it in the future.  From here, it was a more open trail along rolling hills, a contrast to the previous section that was narrow, steep, and rocky.  This stretch continued for about a mile and half until we came out on some bluffs overlooking Indian Creek.  Thick foliage prevented good views, but we were a good distance above the creek below.  Past here, the trail turned steep again and there were four more stream crossings before coming out at the trail’s northern terminus at the Dan River Access.

Dan River

We stopped for a couple minutes to get some pictures of the river and then made the return trip back to the main parking lot.  The return trip was all uphill and somewhat strenuous with an elevation gain of around 1000 feet between the river and the visitor center.  Except in steep spots, it wasn’t really noticeable on the way down, but I certainly felt it on the way back up, particularly since we had already hiked about 10 miles before we turned around.  After about an hour and a half, we made it back to the parking lot, sweaty, tired, and dirty.  Susan was satisfied that she had gotten in a good training hike in preparation for the Ultimate Hike and I had enjoyed hiking a new trail in the park.  A good day indeed.  With all that hiking, we had worked up quite an appetite and so stopped at Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Oak Ridge on the way back home.