When you have a hankering to head for the hills, but don’t have time for a trip to the mountains, you can drive an hour or so to the mountains in the midst of the Piedmont.
In fact, long ago — 300 million to 500 million years — the Piedmont was the mountains. They bubbled out of the ground via volcanic activity, thrust as high as 20,000 feet by the crunching and colliding and folding of tectonic plates.
Alas, the effects of aging have a way of reducing one’s stature; like Great Grandpa Irving, their once towering presence has diminished. But they haven’t disappeared altogether.
Throughout the Piedmont, you’ll find relict mounds of Piedmont monadnocks, erosion-resistant rock that’s not going down without a fight. Some—Medoc Mountain in North Carolina, Smith Mountain and White Oak Mountain in Virginia—are recognized as outdoor playgrounds: Medoc Mountain and Smith Mountain as state parks, White Oak Mountain as a Wildlife Management area. Both offer hiking. Others — such as Thoroughfare Mountain, Mount Pony and Piney Mountain, all in Virginia — are in private hands. These are isolated remains, their neighbors long since worn to rolling hills.
But there remain several mountain ranges in the Piedmont where recreation is alive and well.
Probably the best-known mountains outside The Mountains are the Uwharries, which occupy a good portion of Randolph, Montgomery, Stanly and Davidson counties southwest of Asheboro, in the center of the Piedmont. The range tops out at just under 1,200 feet (1,188-foot High Rock Mountain in southwestern Davidson County), but there’s considerable relief in these hills, which are surrounded by rolling farmland a little over 300 feet above sea level. In the 50,000-acre Uwharrie National Forest, there are more than 215 miles of trail, according to Don Childrey in his “Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide.” The backbone of hiking in the Uwharries is the roughly 40-mile (and growing) Uwharrie Trail, which runs from Troy on the south to near NC 49 on the north, and even includes a wilderness area. If you’re looking for long training hikes in preparation for hitting the Appalachians or heading out West, it’s hard to beat these trails, which are within an hour and a half of Charlotte, the Triad and the Triangle.
Also popular from a hiker’s standpoint are the Sauratown Mountains, a range north of the Triad that’s defined by Hanging Rock State Park to the east and Pilot Mountain State Park to the west (in between is Sauratown Mountain, which has no public lands). Pilot Mountain with 25 miles of trail and Hanging Rock with more than 20 miles of trail offer the highest hiking in the Piedmont, reaching nearly 2,500 feet in elevation. And both offer the kinds of mountain-top views you long for in a summit, and waterfalls to boot. And the nearly 25-mile-long Sauratown Trail links the two.
We’re hard-pressed to find a name for the mountain range that runs from Crowders Mountain State Park outside Gastonia to Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina, but what’s in a name, anyway? Crowders Mountain, at 1,635 feet, and its neighbor, The Pinnacle, at 1,705 feet, offer an alpine experience for Charlotte hikers (and Charlotte mountain climbers as well). Crowders Mountain has 20 miles of trail, including the 6.2-mile Ridgeline Trail, which hooks up with an additional 40 miles of trail across the state line in South Carolina’s Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Cane Creek Mountains
This lesser-known range in portions of Alamance, Guilford, Randolph, and Chatham counties was lesser known because it was short on public access to recreation. That’s about to change. In 2014, the Piedmont Land Conservancy acquired a 101-acre tract in southern Alamance County. PLC subsequently turned the land over to Alamance County Parks & Rec., which is developing trails on the property, part of the Cane Creek range. We’ll be back with more information about the preserve and it’s anticipated opening.
We’ve got several trips planned to the Piedmont mountains over the next two months. Join us and explore these mountains in our midst.
Explore with us!
Our GetHiking! program frequently explores the Piedmont’s mountains. Coming up:
- Friday Crowders Mountain Extreme Hike, GetHiking! Charlotte. Details here.
- March 24 GetHiking! Classic Hikes: Pilot Mountain. Details here.
- April 14 Piedmont Explorer: Hanging Rock State Park. Details here.
For more information on the mountains mentioned today:
- Uwharrie Mountains “Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide,” by Don Childrey (2014, Earthbound Sports. More info at donchildrey.com.
- Sauratown Mountains For hiking in Pilot Mountain State Park, go here, for Hanging Rock State Park, go here. For information on hiking the Sauratown Trail, which is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, go to this trail guide from the Friends of the MST.
- Crowders Mountain Check the Crowders Mountain State Park website for info on hiking in the park, including the Ridgeline Trail, which heads southwest into South Carolina. For hiking on the South Carolina side, visit the Kings Mountain State Park website.
- Cane Creek Mountains For information on Alamance County’s Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area and when it will open, go here.