Y'all. When I tell you I stumbled across a true hidden gem, I am not exaggerating. But before I get ahead of myself, let me back up.
I have been wanting to visit Stone Mountain State Park for a hot minute now. Located just under two hours from my home in South Charlotte, North Carolina, Stone Mountain State Park presents the perfect day trip for those living in the Queen City. An easy drive up interstate 77, Stone Mountain offers scenic views, picture-perfect picnic spots, and even a little bit of history to be learned from the 19th century restored Hutchinson Homestead. From horseback riding to fishing, climbing to camping, visitors can do it all.
The 600 foot granite dome that the park is named after offers a truly unique and impressive landmark. A 4.5 mile strenuous loop trail takes visitors past a large waterfall and ultimately to the summit of the dome. After deciding to visit Stone Mountain on a Saturday, and upon pulling into the lower trailhead parking lot and seeing that cars were parked in overflow areas, I knew it would be crowded. I also knew I had to pick a less popular trail. I like hiking and I like people (for the most part) but I don't like seeing (a lot of) people on my hikes. The Stone Mountain Loop Trail was out.
After studying the map for a bit, I decided on the Wolf Rock Trail. 1.5 miles one way, this trail starts in the same place as the Stone Mountain Loop, but eventually tapers off on its own. After about a mile, you will come to an intersection with the Mountains-to-Sea (MST) State Trail. Keep going another half mile or so and the trail will start to flatten out, winding through a small thicket before opening up to what was not only a complete surprise but one of the best mountain views I've had on my hikes. Now, I'm sure if I had done a bit more research (guilty) I would have known this was part of the hike. However, the fact that I was not expecting this at all made it that much more amazing!
Even more amazing was the fact that I had the whole rock to myself. A hiker's dream come true. Now, it was a big rock, and a few groups straggled through while I was up there, but none lingered. Maybe that was what was even more surprising to me. When I come across a view like that, I am going to stop and enjoy it. The others I came into contact with stopped, snapped a few pics, and kept on moving, but I'm not complaining.
When I was finally ready to move on, I felt refreshed and full of energy. I kept going in the direction I had been heading, joining the Black Jack Ridge Trail, another 1.5 mile trail that would eventually connect to the Cedar Rock Trail, then back to the Stone Mountain Loop trail and back to the starting point, essentially creating my own loop totaling 4.64 miles. One thing I really loved was the diverse landscape and vegetation at various points throughout the trail. Going from lush rhododendrons and bubbling creeks to dry, rocky, hardwood patches was incredible.
To summarize, I hiked a big old loop that was comparable in difficulty and distance as the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, had AMAZING views, and saw only a handful of others on the trail. People! This is the way to do it. And of course, if you were interested in a bit of a shorter hike, another option would be to take the Wolf Rock Trail back down after making it to the summit, for a 3.0 mile trip in total.
I broke up my hike into two segments, the 1.5 miles to Wolf Rock, and then 3.2 miles from there back to the start. Read about the significance of the 3.2 miles in my last blog post here.
NEED TO KNOW:
3042 Frank Parkway
Roaring Gap, NC 28668
November - February: 7am - 6pm
March, April, September & October: 7am - 8pm
May - August: 7am - 9pm
Closed Christmas Day
Entrance Fee: None
Every year for the last 14 years, members of the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg, Virginia community come together to honor the Hokies that were lost during the April 16th shooting in 2007.
One of the ways Virginia Tech has chosen to celebrate the lives of those we lost is through an annual run or walk of 3.2 miles. This event has grown over the years, with friends and family of the VT community coming together across the country and the world to remember and honor our fallen Hokies.
In the past, I have volunteered at this event, handing out water and encouraging the participants of the run. This year, due to the COVID pandemic, the event was held virtually, running from April 16-18.
I decided to do something a little different this year and hike my 3.2 for 32. I headed to Stone Mountain State Park, knowing that it would likely be crowded and intending on choosing a less popular trail. Upon pulling into the parking lot, my suspicions were confirmed when I saw people utilizing the overflow parking areas. While most people headed for the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, I set off on the Wolf Rock Trail, a 1.5 mile trail to a huge granite surface that featured amazing views of the surrounding mountains, and equally important, almost no people.
After taking some time to rest, reflect, and enjoy the scenery, I set off on a 3.23 mile journey to create my own loop by getting on the Black Jack Ridge Trail, and from there, connecting back to the Stone Mountain Loop. I got back to the parking area after exactly 3.23 miles (not including the first 1.5 miles up to Wolf Rock).
This was such a great way to complete the 3.2 for 32. Time spent in nature, getting some peace, and taking an extra moment to reflect really embodied the slogan that so many Hokies have come to adopt which is "Live for 32."
If you're interested in learning more about the ways Virginia Tech has celebrated the lives of those lost, as well as reading the stories of each of the 32 Hokies, check out the website here.
I can confidently say that this is how I will be completing my 3.2 miles from now on.
I like hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and offbeat destinations