Mile per mile, the trails at Hanging Rock State Park are among the most varied in the state. Sometimes wide and formed of crushed gravel and sometimes narrow single-track almost grown over with rhododendrons, the hike at Hanging Rock seems to change at almost every mile. Stunning North Carolina views from high atop craggy rock formations and waterfalls tucked away in shaded alcoves are some of the variety found at Hanging Rock State Park.
What Makes It Great
The namesake attraction, the Hanging Rock, is a large quartzite outcropping giving a visitors a 270 degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and valley floor below. The 1.5 mile Hanging Rock Trail that leads to his ultimate photo-op is fairly steep, climbing through a dense canopy of chestnut and hemlock.
For a ten-ish mile hike that includes the best of what the park has to offer, link up with the Wolf Rock Trail on the way back down from the Hanging Rock. The hike is basically a loop but with an additional out at back to snag even more views.
The Wolf Rock Trail and connecting Cooks Castle Wall Trail basically run along a ridge with multiple spots that seem to be made for a lunch spot. Large, smooth rock outcroppings sit on top of sheer cliffs, breaking up thick bands of forest and make way for views that go on forever. If you don’t like one spot, keep walking, there will be another great view soon enough.
Once you’ve reached the end of the Cooks Wall Trail, turn around and had back to the loop, making a left onto the Magnolia Springs Trail. All those eye popping views and moderately steep incline are replaced by a decent through a canopy of rhododendrons and gentle springs.
At the end of the trail, take a right and follow the creek bed. The trail changes again into a wide, smooth path and, through the trees, you’ll get your first lake sighting. The quiet of the forest is interrupted by the sounds of canoe paddles and kids jumping off platforms. The lake and surrounding picnic areas are super popular with families in the summer.
This is the one tricky spot on the hike. After you walk past the swimming pavilion, look for the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). Follow it to the end of the lake and head left. It’s difficult to follow the trail but soon enough you’ll notice it tucked between the northern end of the lake and the road. Head back to where you started. But the trail isn’t done with you yet.
A short hike from the back of the parking lot leads you to your final rewards. Two waterfalls, Hidden Falls and Window Falls, located less than a mile down the trail, are a worthy final stop cool off after a hot day of trail treading.
Who is Going to Love It
The variety at Hanging Rock State Park makes it a fantastic day out for just about any description of hiker. The short walk to the water falls, numerous picnic areas, and lake with swimming and canoe rentals, the park draws plenty of families.
Eighteen miles of hiking trails ranging from strenuous to easy allow for plenty of leg room for more adventurous hikers. And with a fantastic view, waterfall, or stream every mile or two even the most impatient outdoor lover won’t get bored.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Take the Hanging Rock Park Road past the park entrance, stopping at the visitor center. There are bathrooms, water, and a ranger station here.
The Hanging Rock Trail Head is at the opposite side of the parking lot from the visitor center. The falls trailhead is to the left as you face away from the visitor center. Dogs are allowed on the trail but should be leashed.