Beat the rush to Hanging Rock

I realized a few weeks back when I went to find a picture of Hanging Rock State Park in my computer archive that it had been a while since I’d paid a visit. The reason: I didn’t have a Hanging Rock file, let alone a single photo of the photogenic state park north of the Triad. Because I always take my camera when I hit the trail, that meant I hadn’t been to Hanging Rock since my dark PC days — at least five years ago. (Re: “the dark PC days” — The first/last PC I’ve had ate my photo library not long after my “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina” came out in 2007. Shame on me, yes, for not backing up. But shame on the PC for having such a convoluted and vulnerable system. Rant over; moving on … .)

Saturday, my Ultimate Hike group went to Hanging Rock for a long trail hike in preparation for our 28.3-mile hike of the Foothills Trail on Oct. 1 (more about that here). The first thing that went into my pack (OK, the second thing, after the Snickers energy bars): my camera.

It was a day you dream about hiking, especially at the likes of Hanging Rock.

Hanging Rock is the rooftop of the Piedmont. The easternmost of three mini-massifs in the ancient Sauratown Mountain range, the nearly 7,000-acre park tops out at just a little over 2,500 feet. Compared to its neighbors the southern Appalachians to the west, which top out at nearly 6,700 feet, that may not seem like much. But considering the surrounding countryside is about 800 feet above sea level, that’s some significant elevation change (roughly 1,700 feet for the math challenged).

It’s a difference that makes for a great training hike and, on a crisp fall day, remarkable views. Though we were on a training hike Saturday and eager to add up some miles, when we reached the top of Moore’s Wall, there was no question that we would take a moment to savor our summit. Packs came off, trail snacks and water bottles came out. We spread out across the rocky, open summit and savored views in all directions: of the Piedmont rolling off to the east, of Winston-Salem to the south, of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia to the north, of sister peaks Sauratown Mountain and Pilot Mountain to the west. Hanging Rock affords not only the best 360-degree view in the Piedmont, but one of the best in the state.

Not only can you see just about every ecological zone in the state from Hanging Rock, you can hike through many of them as well. The lower reaches of the 5.5-mile Sauratown Loop Trail took us through trademark Piedmont hardwood forest, the upper reaches of Hanging Rock and Moore’s Wall trails takes you through thickets of alpine rhododendron and mountain laurel, and when the temperature gets into the mid-70s, the pungent scent of galax is ever-present. The Indian Creek Trail has the best waterfall hiking east of the Blue Ridge escarpment.

Here’s the secret to Hanging Rock: In another month, the park will be over-run with leaf watchers. On a clear day such as Saturday, you can not only appreciate the color change at Hanging Rock, you can appreciate it from the Blue Ridge deep into the Piedmont — and many people do. During leaf season, the 1.3-mile trail from the Visitors Center up to Hanging Rock is a conga line of one-a-year hikers.

Avoid the rush and go now. The accompanying slide show should provide the inspiration, this link to Hanging Rock’s Web site should provide the direction.

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