Trail Trials: Stone Mountain
Stone Mountain is the centerpiece and namesake of one of North Carolina’s largest state parks. The 600-foot granite dome stands 2,305 feet above sea level and is part of a 25 square-mile pluton—a gigantic igneous rock that formed underneath the earth’s surface 400 – 500 million years ago. This fascinating geologic formation and its 14,000 acres of surrounding parkland feature over eighteen miles of trails, a 200-foot waterfall, and a refurbished, mid-19th century farmstead, attracting more than 450,000 visitors each year.
My ascent to Stone Mountain’s summit began on the Loop Trail—a 4.5-mile circuit of moderate difficulty marked by orange circle blazes. The trailhead can be found at the west end of the Upper Parking Lot located a quarter-mile past the Park Visitor Center. The trail diverges at the 0.3-mile mark near the remnants of an old chimney. I bore right and continued a half-mile to a clearing on the rock face that offers a great view of Stone Mountain’s profile against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the vista, it’s another mile to the summit. This stretch of trail is a bit more difficult compared to previous portions since it contains some steep switchbacks, but nothing too strenuous.
I was met with some sensational Blue Ridge scenery atop Stone Mountain’s expansive peak and spent a good fifteen minutes admiring the view before beginning my descent. It was much steeper going down than hiking up as the trail periodically requires the use of stairs and cables for safe navigation. At Mile 3, I reached the Lower Parking Lot where the Loop Trail intersects with the Wolf Rock Trail (marked by red square blazes). I decided to be adventurous and veer off the Loop towards Wolf Rock.
After a three-quarter-mile hike, I reached Wolf Rock—a flat expanse that offers a southwardly view of neighboring Doughton Park. I stayed there for a few minutes before resuming the hike. About a half-mile from Wolf Rock is another trail intersection between the Blackjack Ridge (white square blazes) and Cedar Rock (red circle blazes) trails. I took a left onto the Cedar Rock trail and followed the path onto another large, exposed rock surface with a good view of Stone Mountain. It is important to point out that the trail blazes are painted on the rock, some of which have weathered away considerably. If you’re hiking this stretch, be sure to pay attention to the blaze directions just so you don’t lose your way.
The trail terminates about a half-mile from Cedar Rock and reconnects with the Stone Mountain Loop Trail. I took a left and made my way to the historic Hutchinson Homestead—a living history interpretation of Stone Mountain’s frontier farming community during the mid-19th century. The homestead was established by John and Sidney Jane Hutchinson in the 1850s and operated as a family farm for over a century. The property was sold to Stone Mountain State Park in 1969 and refurbished in the late 1990s. Today, the farming complex consists of a barn, blacksmith shop, corn crib, butchery, medicinal garden, and a 1.5-story log cabin, fit with original furnishings from the Hutchinson family.
I spent nearly a half-hour touring the Homestead before doubling-back down the Stone Mountain Loop Trail. I followed the orange circle blazes for a little over a mile until I reached the 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls. The cascades are incredibly scenic and popular with tourists. Many visitors take the opportunity to swim and cool off in the watering hole at the base of the falls. The Loop Trail turns into a lengthy series of stairs (several hundred steps in total) and ascends the left side of the falls to an overlook at the top. From there, it is a short, 0.3-mile walk back to the Upper Parking Lot.
It's safe to say that Stone Mountain is one of the most unusual destinations I have ever hiked, with its domed appearance and geologic anomalies. I covered about seven miles over the course of my 3.5-hour expedition and had a wonderful time doing it. The trails are well-maintained and easy to follow while their moderate difficulty and length make for a great workout! However, if I were to do it all again, I would omit the Wolf and Cedar Rock trails. They aren’t very spectacular nor are their views all that remarkable. Stay on the Stone Mountain Loop Trail as it will save you 2.5 miles of unnecessary hiking. Besides that critique, this hike was quite delightful and a great opportunity to learn about the region's distinct natural and cultural histories. Trail Rating: 8/10