A few years ago, when we were relatively new to North Carolina, a co-worker told me about Stone Mountain State Park near Roaring Gap, NC. I’m not sure why it took us so long to go, but I completely regret not going sooner. At only a little over 1.5 hours from Charlotte, Stone Mountain makes an easy day trip with fantastic hiking, stunning views, and picture perfect waterfalls.
Now, don’t get this park confused with its namesake in Georgia. You won’t find any large carvings of confederate generals here. Though you will find a similar, but smaller, giant monolith to hike up.
About Stone Mountain State Park, NC
Established in 1969, Stone Mountain was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1975. Located in Roaring Gap, the park includes more than 14,100 acres in NC’s Wilkes and Alleghany counties.
Its most defining feature, is of course the 600-foot granite dome, part of a 25-square-mile igneous rock formed by molten lava beneath the earth’s surface.
Activities include over 18 miles of hiking trails, a 5-mile bridle trail, 20 miles of streams designated to trout fishing, plus rock climbing, and four small to mid-sized waterfalls. Hutchinson Homestead is also in the park as a restored mid-19th century mountain homestead.
Best of all, like most North Carolina State Parks, entrance is free.
Day Trip To Stone Mountain Loop Trail
The main trail in the park is the Stone Mountain Loop Trail. To get us close to the trailhead, we started our day at the Upper Trailhead Parking area.
From the parking area the formal path was easy to spot at the front-left of the lot. However, there was also a cut through path directly behind the very clean toilet block. It led through the field and on to a dirt road which ended at the loop trail.
We took the formal path, which almost immediately split off, without any signage. We stayed right at the split to get to the loop trail, left would have taken us to the picnic grounds.
Marked by the remains of an old fireplace, we chose to go counter clock-wise on the Stone Mountain Loop Trail. The full loop is 4.5 miles, but at this point it was only 1.4 miles to the Stone Mountain summit.
The dirt trail started easy enough, but it didn’t take long to understand why it’s classified as a strenuous hiking trail. The trail is steep, and it just gets steeper and more strenuous as you near the summit. However, the trail itself is wide and doesn’t require any climbing, or special skill, just some breaks and panting if you’re not use to it.
Lookouts Before The Stone Mountain Summit
As we made our way up to the summit there were two open areas to get good views. Surrounded by trees, the first area was simply a large expansive opening onto the rock surface.
With trees growing out of the rocks, and a great view of the striped coloration of sediment and erosion, the second lookout area made a great place to take a break. However, as it is an amazing viewpoint, lots of folks seemed to mistake it for the summit. They looked almost disappointed to learn the steepest section was yet to come.
Stone Mountain Summit
To reach the summit required trekking up several tiring switchbacks, before the trail leveled out a little. As we neared the top, we almost missed the opening in the primitive wooden fence.
Beyond the fence, the moon-like rocky surface stretched out into the distance. We headed down as far as we could. I would advise caution if you do the same. Even where the wooden posts marked the edge of safety, the whipping wind was so strong we didn’t feel safe staying there very long.
Even though it was quite busy during our visit, the rocky summit was spacious, with plenty of room to take a seat and enjoy the views.
On the next cliff over from where we sat, a flock of vultures used the air currents to gracefully glide the skies. I’ve never found vultures fascinating, but we must have sat and watched them for at least an hour. There was something unique and enjoyable about watching them play on the wind at eye level.
Stone Mountain Waterfall
As we were starving, instead of doing the full loop we headed back the way we came and grabbed a late picnic lunch.
After lunch, we followed the Stone Mountain Loop Trail left this time to Stone Mountain Waterfall. From the stone fireplace we mentioned earlier, the trail is only .3 of a mile.
After walking across a few large boulders, the trail turned into a lengthy set of stairs, about 300 of them.
About half way down is a nice viewing platform, with a not so exciting view of the 200 foot waterfall. Oh, and don’t even think about climbing the railing to get to the top of the falls. The park notes several deaths which occurred from doing this.
To get the best view, we followed the stairs all the way to the bottom. Unfortunately, that also meant climbing back up all those stairs. Though it was completely worth it.
Other Sites At Stone Mountain State Park, NC
As evening started to roll in on our winter’s day trip, we had to leave before visiting a few of the other sites in Stone Mountain.
If you have time, the smaller Middle and Lower Falls are both reachable from the Upper Trailhead Parking Area, just off the Stone Mountain Loop Trail.
Reachable from the Lower Tailhead Parking Area, or via the Stone Mountain Loop Trail had we continued, is the Hutchinson Homestead. There’s also Wolf and Cedar Rock.
Finally, there’s one more small waterfall, Widow’s Creek Trail, accessible from a 2.5 mile hike from the backpackers parking area.