Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dupont State Forest: Cedar Rock (Blog Hike #488)

Dedication: Blog hikes #487 and 488 are dedicated to my dad, John Prager, who went home to be with the Lord 23 years prior to the day I hiked these trails.

Trails: Corn Mill Shoals, Big Rock, Cedar Rock, and Little River Trails
Hike Location: DuPont State Forest
Geographic Location: southeast of Brevard, NC
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2014
Overview: A somewhat challenging, occasionally steep hike over a large rock outcrop.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Brevard, drive US 276 south 10.9 miles to Cascade Lake Road, the intersection of which is located 1.6 miles north of the South Carolina state line.  A brown DuPont State Forest highway sign marks this intersection.  Turn left (east) on Cascade Lake Rd.  Drive Cascade Lake Rd. 1.7 miles to the signed Corn Mill Shoals Access on the left.  Park in the large gravel parking area.

The hike: For my general comments on DuPont State Forest, see my hike to the forest’s famous waterfalls.  This hike does not pass any waterfalls, but it does take you to a large exposed granite rock outcrop that offers fantastic views.  The granite is hot and sunny in the summer, so plan this hike for a cool and/or cloudy day if possible.
Start of Corn Mill Shoals Road
            Begin by crossing paved vehicle Cascade Lake Road and picking up gravel Corn Mill Shoals Road.  Walk around the vehicle gate and ignore the Longside Trail, which exits left.  After walking 0.1 miles on wide gravel Corn Mill Shoals Rd., you reach the junction with the Big Rock Trail that forms this loop.  This intersection and all intersections at DuPont State Forest are well signed.  To do the big climb first, I chose to turn left on the Big Rock Trail and use Corn Mill Shoals Road as my return route.
            For the next 0.6 miles the Big Rock Trail climbs on a moderate but persistent grade as it gains 360 feet of elevation.  Some big rocks in the trail pose challenges for mountain bikers but little problem for hikers.  Near 0.25 miles, you reach the first bit of exposed granite.  This area is called Big Rock.  Some partially obstructed views open up to the left, but better ones will be had when you gain more elevation.
            The trail goes back and forth between sunny granite and shady pine forest as you continue to climb.  Some rock ledges make nice benches if you get tired, but make sure you look for snakes before you sit down.  Soon you enter the next exposed area, this one larger, higher, and with better views than the first.  I had been hiking in the hot sun until I reached this area, at which point a cloud came over.  Thanks, dad!
View west from Big Rock
            At 0.7 miles, you reach the height of land as the trail makes a sweeping 180-degree curve to the right.  Ironically given this trail’s name, this point is called Cedar Rock rather than Big Rock.  Whereas views opened up to the west on your way up, they now open up to the east.
0.9 miles into the hike, the Big Rock Trail ends at a signed junction with the Cedar Rock Trail, which goes right and left.  Both directions go down to the Little River Trail, so you could go either way here.  I chose to turn right and take the shorter but steeper option.
Junction, Big Rock and Cedar Rock Trails
            The trail descends over bare rock, at first gradually and then more steeply.  This trail is not as well worn as the Big Rock Trail, so you will need to look for the cairns (small rocks stacked one atop another) to stay on the trail.  The exposed granite you see across the valley to the right is the east side of Big Rock where you were earlier.
View east from Cedar Rock
            Eventually you descend into pine trees, where a couple of final exposed rocks need to be climbed down.  At 1.6 miles, the Cedar Rock Trail ends at a junction with the Little River Trail, which goes left and right.  Turn right to continue this loop.
            The hard hiking is now over as you begin the dirt/gravel, gradually sloping, streamside Little River Trail, heading upstream.  The river through the dense greenery on your left is occasionally heard but almost never seen.  The Little River is indeed little at this point in its journey, but it accumulates considerably more water before it tumbles over the forest’s famous waterfalls some 3 miles north of here.  At 1.7 miles, you reach Tom Creek.  You could cross using the shallow mountain bike/horse ford, but intelligent hikers will use the thick wooden bridge to the right.
Hiker bridge over Tom Creek
            South of Tom Creek, the Little River Trail climbs gradually over a series of dirt waterbars and curves to the right as it leaves the riverside.  Mountain bikers like to “get air” as they come toward you over the waterbars, so keep your eyes forward.  At 2.3 miles, the Little River Trail ends at an intersection with Corn Mill Shoals Road, which goes sharply left and softly right.  Angle right to start the final segment of this loop.
            Quickly the Burnt Mountain Trail exits left as the wide path that is Corn Mill Shoals Road continues straight, heading west.  After crossing Tom Creek, which flows under the road via plastic pipe, you start a gradual to moderate climb to a low saddle on the west side of Big Rock.  Soon the trail levels out for the last time, and a short easy walk remains to return you to the trailhead and complete the hike.


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