Stone Mountain Loop
and Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail
Geographic Location: northwest of
Length: 6.3 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: April 2015
Overview: A fantastic semi-loop featuring views from
Mountain, 3 waterfalls, and a restored homestead.
Park Information: http://www.ncparks.gov/stone-mountain-state-park
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=418332
Directions to the trailhead: 23 miles south of the
state line, take I-77 to US 21 (exit 83).
Exit and enter north on US 21.
Drive US 21 10.7 miles to Traphill Road;
there is a brown state park sign at this intersection. Turn left on Traphill
Traphill Rd. 4.4 miles to John P. Frank Parkway
and turn right on John P. Frank Parkway,
which leads into the park. Park in the
signed Lower Trailhead Parking Area, which is located on the left 5.3 miles
after turning onto John P. Frank Parkway.
The hike: Far more natural and serene than its more famous touristy cousin in Georgia, North Carolina’s Stone Mountain State Park protects 14,200 acres on and around its namesake mountain. The park’s centerpiece is its large granite dome that rises 600 feet above the surrounding land. Geologists call this landform a pluton, or a block of igneous rock that hardened underground and then rose to the surface due to erosion of the surrounding dirt and rock. Truth be told, there are many plutons on the eastern slopes of the
Appalachians, but Stone
Mountain is larger than most.
Looking Glass Rock 150 miles southwest of here is another famous pluton.
Since its establishment in 1969,
has become a major
destination in Stone Mountain
State Park North Carolina’s
state park system. The park boasts a
90-site campground, a 75-site picnic area, 3 picnic shelters, and more than 20
miles of designated trout streams. Rock
climbing and rappelling are also allowed at various points on the mountain.
With over 18 miles of trails, hikers have plenty of options to choose from at
. Most experts believe the park’s best trail to
be the 4.5 mile Stone Mountain Loop, a difficult loop that leads up and across
the park’s famous granite dome, down beside 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls, and
then past the restored Hutchinson Homestead.
Two other waterfalls are accessed via the 0.9-mile one way Middle
Falls/Lower Falls Trail, an out-and-back that can only be accessed from the
Stone Mountain Loop. Thus, this route
combines the Stone Mountain Loop with the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail to
form a fantastic 3-waterfall 6.3 mile hike. Stone
Mountain State Park
|Trailhead at Lower Parking Area|
Two parking areas serve the Stone Mountain Loop: the Lower Parking Area on the west side of the mountain and the Upper Parking Area on the east side. To get the big climb over with first, this hike starts at the Lower Parking Area and hikes the loop clockwise. Begin at the signed trailhead located to the right of the restroom building. The gravel Stone Mountain Loop climbs gradually with a small cascading stream to the right.
Less than 500 feet from the trailhead, the trail splits to form its loop. To hike the loop clockwise, angle left and use the trail going right as the return route. After rising over a few steps and switchbacking left, the trail crosses the gravel road that provides vehicle access to Hutchinson Homestead. Look across the road for the orange plastic circles that mark the trail on the other side.
The trail continues climbing via switchbacks and occasional sets of wooden steps. White pines and maples are the most common trees in the mountainside forest. At 0.6 miles, the trail briefly exits the forest and enters the bare granite rock. Thick wire cables have been installed to provide a handhold on the steep slope. Some partially obstructed views can be had to the right and left across the rock.
|Climbing along wire cables|
At 0.7 miles, you top the last wooden staircase and the last wire-cabled section of bare rock to reach the first truly spectacular view on this hike. Located at the top of the bare granite, this area gives a 180-degree view to the west, so the foothills leading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway are in full view. Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock, two other worthy destinations in
can be seen below you to the south. Stone
Mountain State Park
|View west from Stone Mountain|
Past the first viewpoint, the trail continues climbing but at a more gradual rate. Orange dots painted on the granite mark the way. 0.9 miles into the hike, you reach the signed summit of
Stone Mountain. The main overlook here points south, so Wolf
Rock and Cedar Rock take center stage. Take
care if you decide to explore off trail up here: the slope gets progressively
steeper as you go further from the summit, and it is possible to get stranded at
a point on the cliffs from which you can go neither down nor up.
|View south from summit|
Continue east across the summit area through more white pine and maple forest. The flatness of the summit is amazing compared to the steep areas that surround it. The wide two-track dirt/gravel trail soon begins descending the east side of
Mountain via a set of switchbacks.
This trail features excellent construction including some recently
installed wooden waterbars and some rock cribbing that undergirds the
As you continue descending, a few more areas of bare rock are crossed. The views south from these areas would seem fantastic were it not for the ones you got at the summit. More easy downhill cruising brings you to the signed spur trail for the Upper Parking Area, which exits left 2 miles into the hike. Continue straight to remain on the Stone Mountain Loop, but look left to notice the stone chimney, which appears to predate the park.
At 2.3 miles, you reach
Big Sandy Creek and the top of . But for the rolling hills in the background, water
would appear to flow off the edge of the earth.
A long set of wooden steps takes you down the west side of the waterfall
to two more viewing platforms, a middle view and a base view. Though nearly 200 feet tall, Stone
Mountain Falls is
more of a waterslide, as water flows down the bare granite for most of its
|Stone Mountain Falls, base view|
Past the base of the falls, the trail descends a few more wooden steps to continue heading downstream along cascading
Big Sandy Creek. The hike now takes on a creekside feel with a
dense understory of mountain laurel and only minor undulations. Soon Big Sandy Creek
makes a sharp left turn, but the trail continues west to begin heading upstream
beside a smaller unnamed tributary.
2.8 miles into the hike, you reach the signed Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail, which exits sharply to the left. The Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail is an out-and-back, so you have to decide whether you want to add it or not. If you are getting tired or sunset is approaching, then you can reduce the total mileage of this hike to 4.5 miles by continuing straight and skipping the other two waterfalls. This description turns left to visit
and Middle Falls . Lower Falls
The Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail is far more rustic than the well-trodden and well-engineered Stone Mountain Loop. Three unbridged creek crossings must be negotiated to reach
, and at least one of them
will require either a difficult rock hop or a wade. Stated another way, if there is not enough
water to require wading, then there will not be enough water to make the
waterfalls worth viewing either. Lower
You encounter the first creek crossing almost immediately, but this one is the easiest of the three because it crosses the small unnamed tributary rather than the main creek. The wide two-track dirt trail descends on a gradual to moderate grade as
Big Sandy Creek
again comes into view on the left. At
3.1 miles, the signed spur trail to exits right. Turn right to hike the narrow spur trail,
which arrives at the top of Middle Falls 700 feet later. Middle
Falls looks similar to Middle
but it has less height and a larger plunge pool. Unfortunately, there is no easy access to the
base of Stone
Mountain Falls . Middle Falls
|Top-down view of Middle Falls|
Retrace your steps back to the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail and turn right to head for
. The second creek crossing, this one across
the much larger Lower
Falls Big Sandy Creek, is quickly reached. I chose to wade through the 5-inch deep
water, but a more nimble person might be able to cross just downstream via a
The trail climbs briefly then descends on a moderate to slightly steep grade to reach the creek again, this time below
. Cross the creek a third time. There are some small rocks in the creek here,
but they do not go all the way across.
After a brief level section, you reach a sign that abruptly says “Falls
Trail Ends” just before the trail heads onto private land. Middle Falls sits in the creek to the left
at this point. Lower
Falls is another waterslide-type
waterfall, and there is no easy access to the base of this one either. Lower
|Upper part of Lower Falls|
Because the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail ends at
, your only option is to
retrace your steps back to the Stone Mountain Loop at 4.6 miles. Turn left to continue the Stone Mountain
Loop. Some large patches of crested
dwarf iris were in bloom on the afternoon of my visit. Lower
The gravel and dirt trail passes back and forth across the creek using nice wooden bridges as it climbs gradually. At 5.3 miles, ignore an unmarked trail that exits right and provides rock climbers access to the base of
Stone Mountain. 500 feet later, the signed trail to Wolf Rock
and Cedar Rock exits at a sharp angle left.
Stay right to remain on the Stone Mountain Loop.
|South face of Stone Mountain|
A little more gradual climbing brings you to a grassy clearing that provides a fantastic view of
Stone Mountain’s south face. Several benches allow you to savor the
view. The trail heads slightly downhill
and reenters the woods before reaching the spur trail to Hutchinson Homestead,
which exits right. This short spur trail
provides your only chance to see the homestead on this hike, so turn right to
cross a wooden bridge and enter the restored homestead.
Hutchinson Homestead consists of several log buildings including a log cabin, barn, blacksmith shop, corncrib, and meat house. The buildings date to the mid 1800’s, but the restoration happened in 1998.
Stone Mountain, which looms large in the background, makes a
dramatic setting for this restored homestead.
Back on the main trail, embark on a moderate downhill cruise that crosses and re-crosses a small creek numerous times, all on wooden bridges. At 6.1 miles, the other end of the Wolf Rock Trail enters from the left. After dipping to cross the creek one final time, a short climb brings you to the close of the Stone Mountain Loop. Continue straight another 500 feet to return to the parking lot and complete the hike.