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Late Fall Color in Birkhead Mountains

posted Nov 18, 2013, 5:46 AM by Justin P

This weekend, I headed to the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area in Uwharrie National Forest for a nice autumn hike and opportunity to see some of the last of the fall color for the season.  The hike was organized by Joe Miller through the GetHiking group and nearly 50 people were attending.  Despite being a federally-designated wilderness area, the Birkhead Mountains are a little more developed than other wilderness areas and fortunately there is no group size limit.  There are also signs at trailheads and intersections and the trails themselves are well blazed.  We carpooled from Durham to the trailhead on Tot Hill Farm Road, just outside of Asheboro.  Arriving at the parking, it was completely full and we had to park on the street.  Turns out, we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of a nice Saturday to enjoy the outdoors.  There were quite a few Boy Scouts hiking in the area and it was the first day of rifle-hunting season.  As the wilderness is also state game lands, there were many hunters out and about.  After Joe made a few announcements regarding the hike, we took off on the Birkhead Mountain Trail leading south into the wilderness.  The trail is initially pretty flat, but then becomes rather steep as it climbs up Coolers Knob Mountain, the steepest part of our hike today.  Reaching the top of the mountain, the trail follows an old road bed along the ridgeline of the mountain.  When we reach the top, some people initially went right on the old road bed, but this was not the trail.  We got everyone back together and all went left, following the white blazes to stay on the Birkhead Mountain Trail.  Up higher, we were starting to see what’s left of the fall color.  Most of the leaves were down by now and the majority of those that remained were more of a dull brown.  But there were still some very nice patches of red, yellow, and orange.  And without much of the foliage to obscure views, I could see the rolling hills of the Birkhead Mountains through the trees. 

Birkhead Mountain Trail

Mountains is a bit of stretch, considering the highest peaks are less than 1000 feet above sea level.  But still, the elevation gains made this hike a bit more strenuous than the usual Piedmont hike and the views were quite nice.  We continued on the trail for a little bit over a mile to the intersection with Robbins Branch Trail, where we would finish up the loop later on, and then continued on Birkhead Mountain Trail for about two more miles to the intersection with Hannahs Creek Trail.  By this time, our group had really broken up and I was hiking with the faster group.  We didn’t really have any idea how far behind everyone else was and since the intersections are well signed, we turned on to Hannahs Creek Trail.  Shortly after the turn is the remains of an old chimney, a sign of the human influence of the wilderness’s past.  I was here last year and the chimney was standing, signaling that there used to be a homestead here.  Some time in the past year, however, the chimney had collapsed and all that remained was a pile of stones. 

Chimney Remains

We continued along this trail, which follows Hannahs Creek for a ways and then crosses Robbins Branch, ending near the Robbins Branch Trailhead.  Like all the trails in the wilderness, there are many large rocks along the trail that indicate that these were once mighty mountains that have been eroded away by hundreds of millions of years of the elements.  We stopped for a break at the intersection of Robbins Branch and Hannahs Creek Trail, had a snack and took a “biology” break.  By this point, we had already gone over six miles and Joe had indicated the total hike was 7.2 miles.  Clearly, this was wrong, as we still had more than four miles to get back to the cars.  A few people were not so happy about the extra mileage, but I was kind of happy.  With about 3 hours of round-trip driving for the hike, I wanted to get as much hiking time in as possible, at least more than driving time, and the extra miles would ensure that.  7.2 miles is the correct distance for the loop, but the extra section of Birkhead Mountain Trail adds more than 4 miles to and from the trailhead.  A few more stragglers met at the intersection and then we continued on, hiking the Robbins Branch Trail back to Birkhead Mountain Trail. 

Robbins Branch Trail

From here, it was another 2.2 miles back to the parking area, but at least it was mostly downhill on the way back.  Back at the parking lot, we saw more hunters with their rifles heading into the woods.  I had gotten back to the trailhead with a few others about 20 minutes or so before the others got back.  We waited around at the parking area for a while and when Grace and Isabel got back, we took off.  On the way home, we stopped at Pisgah Covered Bridge, one of only two covered bridges remaining in North Carolina.  It’s a pretty bridge and a nice reminder of the state’s history.  Unfortunately, some idiots thought it would be cool to carve and paint graffiti on the bridge.  After a few pictures, we took off and made our way back to Durham.