Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kings Mountain National Military Park: Browns Mountain Trail (Blog Hike #415)

Trail: Browns Mountain Trail
Hike Location: Kings Mountain National Military Park
Geographic Location: south of Kings MountainNC
Length: 5.7 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2013
Overview: An out-and-back featuring partially obstructed views from Browns Mountain.

Directions to the trailhead: Near the South Carolina-North Carolina border, take I-85 to North Carolina SR 216 (exit 2).  Exit and go south on North Carolina SR 216.  North Carolina SR 216 quickly reaches the state line and becomes South Carolina SR 216.  Take SR 216 a total of 3 miles from I-85 to the signed Visitor Center on the left.  Park in the large asphalt parking area in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: For my general comments on Kings Mountain National Military Park, see my blog entry for the Battlefield Trail.  Other than the paved battlefield trail, the out-and-back to Browns Mountain described here is the most popular hike in Kings Mountain National Military Park.  Because Browns Mountain is the highest point in the park, the partially obstructed views from its summit and nearby false summit extend far into the Piedmont to the south.
            The high areas along this hike are heavily wooded, so I recommend visiting Browns Mountain in late winter or early spring when obstruction is at a minimum.  Also, the moderate length and difficulty offered by this trail make it a good early-season preparatory hike to get the leg muscles powered up after a long winter’s nap.  Whenever you choose to come here, this trail offers a pleasant hike through some of the nicest forest in this part of the state.
Backcountry trailhead
            After registering at the Visitor Center as required by park rules, walk out the front door and past the restrooms to the end of the blacktop.  A brown carsonite post and a metal park sign mark the trailhead for the backcountry trails.  Continue straight on the wide single track dirt trail, which is marked throughout its length by plentiful blue paint blazes.  Black waterbars are also plentiful throughout this hike.
            At 0.15 miles, you reach the intersection with the main backcountry trail, which goes straight and left.  Signs direct you to turn left to head for Browns Mountain.  The trail continuing straight heads for Lake Crawford in adjacent Kings Mountain State Park, a worthy destination in its own right.  The two options here actually form one very long 15.1 mile loop, but such a loop is too long for a comfortable day hike.
Following the blue blazes
            The trail dips steeply but only for a short time to cross a tributary of Long Branch.  Some brown carsonite posts indicate that this trail has been designated a National Recreation Trail.  The trail next begins a long gradual to moderate climb away from this tributary.  Part of this climb uses an old road similar to the one used by the overmountain men when they came here from Tennessee.  See the Battlefield Trail blog entry for more details about the overmountain men and how they turned the tide for the Patriots during the American Revolution.
            0.6 miles into the hike, the trail curves left to leave the old road.  This turn is well marked, as is the entire trail.  After dipping through a shallow ravine, you cross SR 216, the road you drove in on.  This road crossing is unmarked from a driver’s perspective, so take care as you cross.  Now on the west side of SR 216, the trail climbs a little more to top a narrow ridge, which it begins following.  The understory here is very sparse thanks to the park’s prescribed burns.  These fires destroy invasive plants and thus help maintain the forest in its native state.
Trail along ridgetop
            At just over 1 mile into the hike, the trail drops off the end of this narrow ridge to reach a tributary of Stonehouse Branch.  When I hiked this trail in early March, I was greeted by an entire chorus of frogs bleating out their mating calls.  The next 0.5 miles remain streamside as you cross and recross several small creeks, all on wooden footbridges.
            Now passing the lowest elevation on this hike, the trail curves left and begins the main assault of Browns Mountain.  Near the beginning of this ascent another area on the right has been prescribed burned just recently.  Bare understory and charred tree trunks give testament to the power of fire. 
Recent prescribed burn
            The trail climbs on a moderate grade to reach the signed spur trail to Browns Mountain at 2.2 miles.  The main trail goes straight here to continue its long loop, but this hike turn rights to begin the spur trail.  After climbing a couple of steep areas, you reach a pair of benches that give nice views to the south.  This point offers the least obstructed view on this trail, so take some time to admire the sights.
View near Browns Mountain
            Past the benches, the trail dips through a high saddle to arrive at the real summit of Browns Mountain.  There are no benches and no real views to be had here, but the summit is not without interest.  A working weather station is located at the summit.  Also, four cement foundations give witness to a fire tower that stood on this summit many years ago.
The Browns Mountain Trail ends at this point.  There is a rough jeep road that leads down the west side of the mountain, but it only takes you further from the trailhead and it does not loop.  Thus, you will need to turn around and retrace your steps 2.8 miles to the Visitor Center to complete the hike.

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