Colorful Fall Adventure on Stone Mountain
As my family drove through Stone Mountain State Park, winding our way through the trees and meadows on our way to the base of the mountain, we got to experience our own safari — right here in North Carolina. A deer was calmly chewing grass right beside the road, and although he looked up as we approached, he wasn't scared off. I was able to stop the car right beside him, and my daughter Caroline looked out the window from her perch in the car seat right into the deer's big eyes.
Something for Everyone
Being that close to wild animals is just one of the many great things you will enjoy during a trip to Stone Mountain. The Stone Mountain State Park covers more than 13,500 acres of land in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, a vast amount of space that provides a variety of activities — whether you're in the mood for a strenuous hike up the mountain or a leisurely picnic beside a creek.
Our trip to the park included 11-year-old Craig and 2-year-old Caroline, so splitting up for our hikes was a must. Craig and my husband chose to explore the path that led to the summit of Stone Mountain, a challenging hike that gets a little steep toward the end, just the right amount of adventure for a preteen. At just under a mile, this trail is easily accomplished during a day trip, and the view from the top is gorgeous. The bald granite bursting out from the fall foliage will take your breath away.
While the two guys hiked, Caroline and I explored the historic Hutchinson Homestead at the base of the mountain. Rather than walking the half-mile trail from the parking area to the homestead with a toddler, we drove up the access road and parked in the one-hour parking spots. From here you can easily walk to a great viewing point of the cliffs of Stone Mountain where you might see mountain climbers rappelling down the face of the mountain. We spent a lot of time playing on the porches of the historic buildings and throwing rocks into the creek. Then we hiked the short distance to the mountain's climber's access, where the towering boulders jut from the ground in sharp angles.
Many Happy Trails
Other trails that are perfect for those on a day trip are the Middle/Lower Falls Trail, which takes you by the rushing waterfalls of Stone Mountain; and the self-guided nature trail, which includes signs providing information about the park's geology and vegetation. The Widow's Creek Trail, which begins about 1/4 mile from the base of the mountain, might be a good option for visitors who have already hiked to the top of Stone Mountain. The 2.5-mile hike visits a variety of backcountry sites, but the beautiful Widow's Creek Falls is easily accessible from the road. We all walked up and played in the falls for a while, trying to delay the drive home as long as possible.
All of the trails are well kept and visibly marked to make for easy hiking. You can also pick up detailed maps at the visitor's center on your way into the park.
There are many picnic areas in the park, from tables and a grill to flat open spaces beside a creek. Just be sure to pack up all your trash and take it with you, not only to keep the park beautiful but also to discourage the deer from learning to love people food.
Don't Forget Shopping
On your way out of the park, plan on stopping at the Stone Mountain General Store. It's technically not a part of the park because it's on privately owned land, but it's near the entrance. If your family is like mine, they're too excited to start hiking and won't make a detour to the store on the way in. But afterward, the promise of ice cream and cold bottled soft drinks for the trip home might lure them in for some shopping.
The store has a place to sit down and eat some of its fresh-made sandwiches, as well as plenty of snack food and essential supplies for campers. Upstairs is an attic full of quilts, artwork, candles and soaps from local artists.
Stone Mountain State Park is a hidden treasure practically in our back yard. Slightly off the beaten path, it's not very crowded, which makes for a great outdoor getaway. And its location just below the Blue Ridge Parkway ensures visitors the chance to take in all the colorful beauty that fall in the North Carolina mountains has to offer.
Stone Mountain State Park
3042 Frank Parkway
Roaring Gap, NC 28668
Directions: From Interstate 77, take Hwy. 21 North. Turn left on Traphill Road. Turn right onto Frank Parkway, and this road leads into the gates of the park.