I spent most of last week commuting from Charlotte to High Point in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. This was loads of fun, but by Thursday, I began thinking about how I could take advantage of all of that water. I decided to spend Thursday night with my mom in Winston-Salem. I brought along all of my hiking gear, with plans to hit a trail somewhere in that area on Friday.
My first thought was to do a hike with some waterfalls. However, most of the hikes that came to mind would require creek crossings, which seemed like a bad idea. I rejected hikes in Stone Mountain State Park and Doughton Park because of this. Ultimately I settled on a visit to Hanging Rock State Park. I was pretty sure I could visit all of the waterfalls in the park without having to wade a flooded stream. Plus, several of those waterfalls are on small creeks. I figured the extra water would add a lot to those cascades.
I got up early on Friday and left Mom’s just after 7. The sky was still overcast, promising good conditions for waterfall photography. I drove up through Rural Hall (locally pronounced “Rooo Haw”) and on towards Hanging Rock. I approached the park on some back roads though, as my first stop was at Tory’s Den. Tory’s Den features a small cave and fairly high waterfall on a tiny creek. I last visited Tory’s Den Falls 15 years ago or so, and on that occasion, I’d seen only a trickle of water. I was looking forward to a different experience this time.
It was a bit after 8am when I reached the parking area. A short hike led to a fork in the trail. A left turn took me to the brink of a cliff, and a view of the falls. The cliff was wet and a little treacherous, so I avoided much exploration. The water was definitely up, and the falls were worth the visit. I took a few photos, before backtracking to the junction and heading down to the cave. Tory’s Den is a fairly small cave, but it’s pretty impressive by North Carolina Piedmont standards. I spent a few minutes checking it out before heading on to the next attraction.
I drove a couple of miles to the trailhead for the Lower Cascades. This is an impressive waterfall by any standards, and I was really looking forward to seeing it at high water. I headed down the trail, and spotted some late lingering fall foliage from an overlook above the falls. A relatively new staircase now leads down to the base of the falls, offering a safer approach than the former scramble path. When I reached the bottom, my first thought was that it might be too much water! There was an absolute torrent of whitewater plunging 35’ into a turbulent pool. A massive cliff towers over the waterfall, adding to the scenery.
I took a lot of photos here, and the only challenge was the frequent wind gusts blowing the foliage surrounding the falls. Despite this, I came away with some decent pictures.
From there, I headed into the heart of the park. I drove up the mountain, and turned into the massive parking lot surrounding the relatively new Visitor’s Center. This parking lot would be big enough for the Mayberry Wal-Mart, and before the day was over, I would walk across it several times.
My third short hike of the day was to the Upper Cascades. This waterfall is several miles upstream from the Lower Cascades, but still downstream from the park’s centerpiece lake. Getting photos of the Upper Cascades does require crossing the creek. Fortunately, the stream squeezes through a narrow chasm at the base of the falls. Jumping across was easy, but by the time I got set up, the sun was beginning to break through. The sun created some difficulties with the photography, but I wasn’t inclined to complain. The Upper Cascades were also more impressive than normal thanks to the water volume.
From there I backtracked to the parking lot, and crossed to the far side to pick up the Indian Creek Trail. This path took me through a picnic area before descending to Hidden Falls. Hidden Falls on Indian Creek is horribly named. First of all, it’s not hidden. A sign points out the side trail leading to the “falls”. The other problem is that it barely qualifies as a waterfall. There’s only a small cascade on a little stream. In the mountains to the west, a drop of this magnitude would be one of hundreds without a name.
Just downstream is Window Falls, which is more impressive. Window Falls is more appropriately named. Above the falls is an impressive cliff, which features a small, natural arch (the window). Just below is a 15’ freefall that you can walk behind. Just upstream is another cascade, hidden behind the cliff featuring the window. I wonder if this could be the original “hidden falls”? Maybe the named waterfall moved upstream at some point inadvertently?
Either way, all three waterfalls were more impressive with the extra water. Originally, I planned to continue from here downstream on the Indian Creek Trail. That path is one of the more underrated hikes in the park, as it leads all the way down to the Dan River. Unfortunately, the trail crosses the creek multiple times. I think I could’ve completed that hike safely, but I probably would’ve gotten wet. Instead, I decided to do one more short hike.
I returned to the parking lot and headed up the trail to The Hanging Rock. This is another trail I hadn’t hiked in many years. I usually avoid this one because it is normally crowded. I’d only seen a few other people all day though, and it was a Friday after 4 straight days of rain. I headed up the wide gravel path under suddenly sunny skies, looking forward to the expansive views that were waiting for me.
I did run into another group along the way. This was a fortunate occurrence though. As I passed by, one of the hikers squealed and pointed at a spider crossing the trail. The spider was fascinating – it was bright orange, and its abdomen was round and swollen. Perhaps it was pregnant? I took a few photos before hurrying on up the trail.
The trail became a bit more rugged below the cliffs of Hanging Rock. From there, I wound around to the far side before making the final ascent. At the top, I wandered along the tops of the cliffs, enjoying the views to the north, west, and south. I picked out a nice, sunny spot for a late lunch that offered a great vista of Moore’s Wall, Cook’s Wall, and miles and miles of farms and woodlands. In the distance I could see the Blue Ridge in Virginia. Buzzards soared by on thermal updrafts, and best of all, I had the summit to myself. I enjoyed several quiet, relaxing minutes before the hikers I’d seen earlier made it to the top. Still, it was a pleasant day on top of Hanging Rock.
I hung out for an hour or so before making a quick return to my car. It was a fair drive home, so it was nice to get on the road by mid-afternoon. My visit to Hanging Rock was an enjoyable one, and I’m sure I’ll return. Next time though, I’d like to bring my canoe and paddle the stretch of the Dan River through the park. I’ve heard that is a nice run, but I’ve never had the opportunity to check it out.
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