Piedmont Scenic Hiking Trails
In the 1990s, North Carolina’s population grew by a whopping 20 percent, and the majority of newcomers settled in the area known as the Piedmont. Despite the explosive growth here, large pockets of flora and fauna – along with the hiking trails to fully enjoy them – still remain.
Just an hour or so west of the state’s largest city, Charlotte, Crowders Mountain State Park offers you more than 20 miles of hiking trails and geological formations, including sheer cliff and exposed rock, which will give you a taste of the state’s mountain parks.
Completed in 2009, the six-mile Ridgeline Trail is the newest addition to the park. Hike its length and it will take you all the way to the SC state line then on to the Kings Mountain National Recreation Trail. The other trails, some of which are rated strenuous, will take you to the summit of both Kings Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain. If you’re a flatlander, try the easy .8-mile Lake Trail that takes you completely around the park’s lake.
If you approach from I-85, take Exit 13 onto Edgewood Road and follow the brown signs to the park’s entrance.
The history-rich Uwharries are the shortest of North Carolina’s mountains – the highest peak here is only 950 feet. Many geologists believe this is the oldest mountain range in North America. And because no major highways have been cut through these ancient hills located in the central portion of the Piedmont, even native North Carolinians are sometimes surprised by how unspoiled the rolling landscape remains.
In his book “Hiking North Carolina,” Randy Johnson, who has worked to preserve hiking opportunities in the state from the Coast to the Mountains, describes several worthy trails, including Denson’s Creek Nature Trail: "Perhaps the forest’s easiest, most interesting trail [with] 17 designated stops keyed to an interpretive brochure available at the information sign beside the Uwharrie Ranger Station." The station is located about two miles east of where N.C. 24/27 meets N.C. 134 in Troy, NC.
To get the fullest sense of the area’s ecology, however, add the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge to your visit. The headquarters for the refuge is located on U.S. 52, two miles south of Ansonville, NC. Wildlife Drive is a 2.2-mile vehicle or hiking trail that begins at the refuge office. You’ll find interpretive signs located along the route.
This park encompasses 2,304 acres in Durham and Orange counties and protects an 11-mile portion of the Eno River. The river’s rapids cross the fall line between the Piedmont and the coastal plain here and are known for their canoeing opportunities.
More than 24 miles of trails follow the river and climb Cox Mountain through hardwood forests. The Bobbitt Hole Trail will take you to spots along the river. All trails are signed and blazed. At nearby Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, which is administered by the state park, several more trails are available, including one that will take you to highest point in Orange County.
To reach the park, travel east on I-85 through Durham. Take Exit 170, cross over the interstate and go west on N.C. 70. At Pleasant Road turn right and go about two miles to Cole Mill and turn left. Go one mile and turn right at the sign for the park office.
Located near Cary, just outside of Raleigh, 20 miles of marked hiking trails at William B. Umstead State Park will take you away from nearby busy cities. This 5,500-acre park is also home to three man-made lakes. Trails range from short strolls to deeper explorations of the pine and hardwood forests. Mountain bikes and horses are prohibited on the hiking trails.
The park, which is also a great place for wildlife photography and bird watching, can be reached from either I-40 or I-70.
by Peter Anderson
added: July 27, 2009
updated: November 5, 2010
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