Years ago, when I lived in Winston-Salem, I used to hike in Doughton Park on a regular basis.  The trails are challenging, the scenery is nice, there is historical interest, and the park is only a little more than an hour’s drive from Winston.  Since moving to Charlotte, I’ve hiked there less frequently, but still visit the park about once a year.  So I was surprised to discover that my wife had never been there.  Somehow, in all the years we’ve been hiking together, she had never joined me on a Doughton Park hike.  Since we were looking for somewhere to hike on MLK day, it seemed like the ideal destination.


Saucony was able to join us, too.  She had her third and (hopefully) final surgery two weeks ago.  She had her stitches out on Friday though, and the vet gave her permission to play in the woods.  After all the hikes she had missed out on the last few months, she probably thought we were teasing when we asked her if she wanted to go.


We made it to the Longbottom Road trailhead at the lower end of Doughton Park in just under two hours.  Despite the holiday weekend, the parking area was deserted.  It was a chilly, cloudy morning as we gathered our gear in preparation for our hike.


My plan was to combine the Flat Rock Ridge, Bluff Mountain, and Bluff Ridge Trails in a 12 ˝ mile loop.  That distance, combined with more than 2000’ of elevation gain, was probably a bit ambitious for an out-of-shape dog and a wife sore from the previous day’s biking and running double-workout.


We crossed Basin Creek on the Longbottom Road bridge and picked up a faint trail heading upstream.  After only a few yards, we began climbing out of the valley on switchbacks.  We were barely out of sight of the car when we reached the first blowdown blocking the trail.  We climbed over it, and reached another a minute or two later.  Saturday’s storm had taken its toll.  I began to have second thoughts.  As we had driven in on Longbottom Road, we had noticed piles of trees and branches lining both sides of the road.  Clearly the road had been blocked until recently.  What if the trails were in the same condition?  Even worse, what if we made it most of the way around the loop, only to find the last few miles impassable?  With sunset before 6pm and 12+ miles ahead of us, we didn’t have much margin for error.


Christy suggested we continue on, but turn back if conditions worsened, or if we ran short on time.  With her blessing, we scrambled over the obstruction.  Once we reached the crest of the ridge, conditions improved.  There were still some fallen trees, and lots of branches, but for the most part we were able to keep moving.


After an hour and a half, we met 2 guys coming the other way.  They were doing the same hike, but had started on the Parkway.  A couple of minutes later, we reached a cliff with a nice view over Grassy Creek Valley to Bluff Mountain, Fodderstack, and other Blue Ridge peaks to the north and west.  It was only 11:30, but we decided to stop there for an early lunch.  It was a pleasant place to eat, except for the distant sounds of a logging operation in the next valley.


We resumed the hike at noon, and immediately reached another cliff with an equally nice view to the southwest.  This cliff was bathed in sunshine, and would’ve made an even better lunch spot. 


Two more climbs along the ridge brought us to the Bluff Mountain Trail / Mountains-to-Sea Trail just below the Parkway.  We followed this path for a mile of easy walking.  At a couple of places, we were treated to pleasant views down the Grassy Creek Valley to the bold granite dome of Stone Mountain in the distance.


We reached Grassy Gap and the Grassy Gap Trail before long.  Originally I had planned on continuing over scenic Bluff Mountain.  That would’ve required a steep descent of the primitive Bluff Ridge Trail.  I was worried about the condition that trail would be in though.  Plus, Christy and Saucony looked as if they had gotten enough exercise.  They both seemed receptive to cutting out that last mountain, even if it was the most scenic part.


We descended the Grassy Gap Trail, which is an old fire road.  Two more deadfalls blocked the trail early on, but generally the wider path was clearer than the trail on Flat Rock Ridge. 


What I thought would be an uneventful descent became a bit more interesting at the first creek crossing.  The crossings of Grassy Creek are usually easy rock hops, but today the water was up.  The first was still easy, but the second was downright tricky.  The next two weren’t any better.  I began to worry about the final crossing.  The trail fords Basin Creek, which is a much larger stream than Grassy Creek.  Then we passed the same two guys doing the hike in the reverse direction.  They warned us that we’d have to wade Basin Creek.  Oh goody, that’s just what I want to do in January.


We resumed the hike, and before long reached the backcountry campsites.  The campsites in Doughton Park are quite nice, and only a mile and a half hike from Longbottom Road.  Christy and I decided to return with our nephew and some friends for a backpacking trip.


Beyond the campground we reached the moment we had been dreading.  Basin Creek is usually an easy rock hop, but the high water had submerged several key rocks.  Two other hikers were on the far side, trying to find a way across.  One repositioned some rocks, but crossing without wading still looked difficult.  We reasoned that we were only 30 minutes from the car, so what did we have to loose?


I worked my way across the slippery, wobbly rocks.  Waterproof boots were essential, but somehow I got across without soaking my feet.  Christy followed without much difficulty.  From there, it was an easy, though occasionally muddy, hike out along Basin Creek.  We returned to the car before 4:30, which was well before dark.  From there it was only a short drive to Elkin for Mexican food, before we returned to Charlotte.  Christy seemed to enjoy Doughton Park, and I’m sure we’ll be back for more hikes in the future.  A loop around the northern portion of the park, including Cedar Ridge, Brinegar Cabin, and Bluff Ridge, might be a nice choice.  A backpacking loop trip starting from the Parkway may be in our future as well.

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