Hanging Rock State Park, only 1 hour from downtown Greensboro, or 45 minutes from downtown Winston-Salem is one of the jewels of the North Carolina State Park system.
1790 Hanging Rock Park Road, Danbury, NC 27016
GPS Coordinates: 36.411906, -80.254122
Park Overview: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/haro/main.php
Map of Park: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/haro/pics/parkmap.pdf
I have been visiting this park for about a couple of years now and have found that there are trails to fit just about everybody’s hiking/trekking abilities. This review focuses on my favorite trails, how to find them, the parts I like the best about each trail, and the level of difficulty, from the viewpoint of a relatively fit, 50 something year old. Each starts from the parking lot of the visitor center (address listed above), which the Google Navigation on my phone easily finds. I have also found that having a PDF copy map of the park on my phone makes for handy reference when I’m hiking, or if preferred, the same map can be picked up at the visitor center. In this review, I reference the altitude of some of the terrain, I use “above sea level” numbers which, at first glance, might seem to be an incredible climb, but consider that the visitor’s parking lot is at a little over 1700’ above sea level, which makes the climb to the highest point in the park only about 800 feet. Another handy feature of these trails is that they are well-marked with symbols attached to the trees every couple of hundred feet or so. For the trail legend, consult the park map.
Hanging Rock Trail to Hanging Rock Bluff: This trail is a 2.6 mi. (out and back) starting and ending at the southeast side of the Hanging Rock State Park information center parking lot. Of all the trails at the park, this one appears to be, by far, the most visited. It starts out in the forest and is deceptively easy, downhill on a wide concrete-paved path that extends about 100 yds. past a creek bed. From the creek bed the trail heads upward and the concrete path transitions to gravel. The slope here is relatively gentle to moderate and the path is wide enough for park service vehicles. Further up the slope, the trail transitions to sand/dirt, is still fairly wide, and crosses a comfortable little saddle on the ridge where the ground varies from gently sloping to basically level. At this point, the views off either side of the trail are down a steep, wooded, incline that falls off fairly quickly to the north and south of the trail, and the views through the trees in the winter are fairly nice. Following the nice breather that is afforded by the sand/dirt portion of the trail, the path begins to ascend toward Hanging Bluff. The trail goes from sand to mostly rock and wooden beams that the park service has nicely positioned so that the hiker is basically climbing steps. In some places the steps are relatively even, other places, the rocks are more haphazard. At this point, the trail is reasonably steep though I saw people of all ages, and footwear, climbing the toughest part of the trail. Though there were folks with flip flops, I found that my hiking shoes and walking stick gave me much better purchase on the rocks and stability on the uneven ground. Shortly after this climb, the trail turns toward the west and levels out a bit (around 2000 ft. above sea level) as it approaches Hanging Rock Bluff. The views at the bluff are magnificent, overlooking the Piedmont of North Carolina to the south, Moore’s Knob to the West, and more rolling hills further to the North of Moore’s Knob. The times I’ve been to the bluff, there was a nice breeze blowing across the rocks and there were plenty of places to sit and enjoy the views of the surrounding countryside seen from rocky crags or through the weather-beaten pine trees that clung to the rocks. The return walk is obviously, mostly downhill, and along the same path. If there’s been any rain, the walking stick is helpful in descending the steepest part of the trail, as it can become a bit slippery.
Wolf Rock & Cooks Wall Trails: I have combined these trails into one review because I enjoy this walk so much that once I’m on the Wolf Rock trail, the gorgeous views to the south, and the relative ease of hiking along the ridge line make it a “no-brainer” to hike all the way out to Cooks Wall. Starting from the southeast side of the visitor center parking lot out to Cooks Wall and back is 6.2 miles. While this sounds like a long hike, it is not particularly strenuous, and there are two junctures in the trail leading back toward the lake parking lot and visitor center if one chooses to cut the walk short (use the park service map for details).
From the parking lot, the first half-mile is on the paved then graveled Hanging Rock Trail which is in the forest and is an easy, downhill slope on a wide concrete-paved path that extends about 100 yds. past a creek bed. From the creek bed the trail heads upward with a gentle to moderate slope and the concrete path transitions to gravel. Shortly up the graveled section, the trail forks southwest toward Wolf Rock at a well-marked intersection and transitions from gravel to a fairly well-worn dirt, leaf, and rock trail. As far as trails go, if the Hanging Rock Trail seems like a highway, the Wolf Rock Trail will definitely seem like a secondary or rural route. After a short climb at about the same pace as the graveled trail, the trail crests the ridge and levels out to about the altitude that it will be throughout the hike. This ridge slopes gently toward the northwest and more steeply toward the southeast. Hikers in the summer or winter will be wowed by gorgeous views of the piedmont of North Carolina to the southeast as the trail pops out of the trees at Wolf Rock and House Rock. Since this ridgeline is approximately 2000’ above sea level, on a clear day the skylines of Winston-Salem and Greensboro are easily spotted toward the south and southeast. In the winter, views through the trees of the nearly parallel ridgeline to the northwest including Moore’s Knob are also magnificent.
The trail itself is delightful to hike; it meanders through rhododendron, over and around large rock formations, and flattens out in the saddles and passes making the walk varied and interesting. Just past House Rock, the trail heads in a more westerly direction and climbs a bit more as it approaches Cooks Wall. Additional spectacular views toward the south await hikers, who can often see soaring birds working the steep slopes of Cooks Wall. I’ve often rested on these rocks and been able to hear the swooshing sound of these birds as they whisper-whoosh past the cliffs.
Past Cooks Wall, the trail continues to meander westerly along the ridgeline. In some places the trail is tight and twisty as it passes through rocks and rhododendron thickets, and other places opens up to sparsely treed areas as the hiker approaches Devils Chimney at the end of the trail. Devils Chimney is the name of the place where the northern and southern slopes of the ridge meet in a reasonably sharp point toward the west. Here, atop the rocks, the views to the west are extraordinary, with Sauratown and Pilot Mountains easily viewable on a clear day, and like the bluffs at Hanging Rock, the breeze at this point is often refreshing. The hike back to the visitor center is a return hike on the same route which is my preference, or if one desires, they can take the first fork onto the Magnolia Springs trail (very well marked with clear signage). This fork takes the hiker down off the ridge, past Magnolia Springs, and down to the trail that parallels the creek that feeds Hanging Rock Lake. From there it is a fairly level walk along the south side of the lake and lake facilities, then back along the road to the visitor center parking lot.
Moore’s Wall Trail to Moore’s Knob Lookout Tower: This is a loop trail measuring 4.3 miles. It is listed as “Strenuous” on the trail map, and the summit is over 2500’ above sea level (800 foot climb) but this loop can be hiked from the easterly side, near the campground area, giving the hiker a steep climb and slow descent, or from the westerly side giving the climber a gentle climb and a steep descent. Either way, the easiest way to find this trail is to follow the road out of the visitor’s parking lot, turn left on the road toward the lake and follow either of the trails around the lake. One leads behind the building at the lake, and the other leads around the north end of the lake for fishing access. Both lake trails come together on the westerly side of the lake near the creek that flows west to east into the lake. To take the easterly approach to Moore’s Knob (Steep Climb) follow the first fork in the trail marked for the Moore’s Wall Trail. If you wish to have a gentler walk uphill, continue on the trail westward along the creek and follow the signs. You will come to a fork marked for the Tory’s Den trail to the left and Moore’s Wall to the right.
The beauty of this trail is that the hiker gets to see lots of different terrain. The portion that parallels the creek often times meanders through dense rhododendron thickets that border the creek. This portion of the trail is nearly flat, and features some interesting and well-maintained narrow boardwalk like features over the creek and muddy low-lying areas. The hike up or down the ridge that runs in a northeast to southwest direction is loaded with truly breathtaking vistas from the rocky outcrops on the westerly side of the ridge affording fantastic views of Sauratown and Pilot Mountains. The lookout tower on the peak of this mountain is nothing short of awesome. From the top, one can see in all directions from a peak towering over 2500’ above sea level. On a clear day, it is easy to see the mountains of the Blue Ridge to the north and west, the nearby hanging rock bluffs to the southeast, Sauratown and Pilot Mountains to the west, and the city skylines of Greensboro and Winston-Salem to the south. Just slightly downhill and to the east of the lookout tower is Balanced Rock which is a cool geological testament to the gentle erosion over eons of time that these peaks have experienced.