In winter, when daylight is a precious commodity, driving two hours from Charlotte to get in a hike, run, or ride isn’t always an option. With that in mind, Morrow Mountain State Park not only provides a surprising list of activities—it's just a 40-minute drive from the eastern side of the Queen City.
The park’s namesake peak, 936-foot Morrow Mountain, is part of the ancient Uwharrie range. Thought to be among the oldest mountains in the eastern United States, the Uwharries were once 20,000-foot behemoths. Millennia worth of erosion has worn these once-giants to lower than 1,200 feet.
But even as their “mountain” status may be questionable these days, the peaks inside Morrow Mountain State Park provide a scenic backdrop against the rolling hills of the surrounding landscape, rising 400 feet or more into the sky. The stark topography and confluence of two rivers at Lake Tillery, along the eastern edge of the park, provide an outdoor playground with plenty of options for all types of outdoor enthusiasts.
Hiking and Trail Running
The varied mountainous terrain makes the perfect setting for the Morrow Mountain Trail Race , which takes place on January 3rd this year, produced by Go Run Trails , a North Carolina-based trail running organization. More than 100 runners will compete in either the 5K, 10K, or half marathon, possibly the most challenging of the Search for the Mountain Goat trail race series.
“These mountains are certainly going to smack you down, even the top runners,” race director Mike Cothran said. “People come away with a feeling of accomplishment and sometimes find out something they perhaps did not know about themselves before participating.”
The race is run along several loop trails that weave through the park. These paths, ranging in difficulty as they run around or over the park’s four peaks—Sugarloaf, Hattaway, Fall and Morrow—are a great option for hiking or running year round.
As a route director for more than a dozen charity rides and creator/managing editor of WeeklyRides.com , Jeff Viscount is sometimes referred to as the “Mayor of Biketown.”
Each year, "Mayor” Viscount organizes a series of six group rides known as the Assault on Morrow Mountain, through the rolling farmlands around Albemarle. The 60-mile loop circumvents the town, enters the state park and culminates in a climb to the top of Morrow Mountain. Although each of the organized rides are permitted events that draw as many as 350 riders, Viscount says the rural location makes it a great ride any time, especially because of the awareness of local drivers.
“Drivers out there are very respectful of riders,” Viscount said. “I’ve even seen them stop and wait for a group of riders to pass.”
Even so, Viscount reminds cyclists to be prepared to be able to handle their own mechanical problems, noting that "there’s not much support out there."
Canoeing and Kayaking
Paddling in a mountain lake is a treat typically found in western North Carolina. But the rivers and lakes nestled in the remnants of the Uwharrie range offer visitors in the eastern piedmont an opportunity to fish and float among some of the state’s most pristine shorelines.
Along its eastern edge, Morrow Mountain State Park is bordered entirely by the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin. Beginning along the north eastern edge of the park and flowing south, the Yadkin and Uwharrie rivers join to form the Pee Dee River. The Pee Dee River then flows into Lake Tillery, a reservoir owing its existence to Tillery Dam at its southern edge.
Boaters of all sorts can access these tranquil waters via a put-in at the end of the main park road; Morrow Mountain State Park also offers canoe and rowboat rentals on weekends beginning in April. In addition to basic amenities like bathrooms and picnic areas, the park also has a campground and rental cabins, ideal for a winter weekend getaway.