Hanging Rock State Park

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Hanging Rock State Park, located in north-central North Carolina, is one of those awesome state parks that’s worth driving out of your way to explore. Not all the way from Iowa…but if you’re in Chapel Hill, N.C., as I was last week, it’s well worth the meandering trip.

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This is a state park with great hiking trails that are well marked, a visitor center staffed with park rangers who know what they’re talking about, and maps you can actually follow. Iowa state park management could learn a thing or two from this place.

Dave and I were at Hanging Rock on a Sunday, and so were hundreds of other people looking for a late-summer outing. The weather was glorious, and the trails were active.

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We wanted to take the namesake Hanging Rock trail, deemed “moderate” by the website, for expansive views of North Carolina’s green mountains.

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About halfway up the trail I started to grumble, “Moderate, my ass.” It was quite a haul, with wooden and stone steps and loose gravel. But the views were worth it: nearby rock formations and expansive vistas of the Sauratown Mountain range (above). We got to the top and climbed around on the rocks a bit before heading back down.

We stopped by the visitor center to ask advice about what to do next. We wanted to explore the park more, but we didn’t want to take any long or strenuous hikes. The park ranger was extremely helpful; she suggested a short hike to the Upper Cascades Falls, with a trail that connected right to our parking lot, followed by the Lower Cascades Falls, which were a short drive away followed by a .8-mile hike to what she described as the best scenery in the park.

Off we went on a .6-mile round-trip hike to the upper falls, which were lovely. A family and their dog were enjoying the waterfall and surrounding rocky pool.

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Next we drove to the lower falls parking lot and did the suggested hike. It was mainly stairs – about 160 of them – but not at all difficult. And the falls were indeed spectacular, so we were very pleased with our guide’s advice – especially since the park has many miles of trails in 21 separately named hikes. It would have been totally overwhelming for a first-time visitor to choose which hikes to take. At the lower falls, there were more couples and families with dogs, all splashing about and enjoying the glorious day.

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Dave’s Fitbit said we walked 14,507 steps, or 6.6 miles in the park. More telling: We walked 89 flights of stairs. It was a good workout as well as being really, really pretty.

We were glad we went to Hanging Rock on Sunday, because it rained for the duration of our time in North Carolina.

If you go, Hanging Rock State Park is located at 1790 Hanging Rock Park Road, Danbury, N.C., directly north of Winston-Salem.

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