In Connelly Springs, NC is where our next adventure will take you.
South Mountains State Park is in the middle of “no-where” according to a google review I read beforehand, and someone posted pictures of the bathroom? I guess that’s an important thing, but with a strong 4.8 rating the park seems to be a popular place to visit.
It started out as your typical hot summer day, and by the act of a higher force we actually woke up at 8am on a Sunday and headed West for about an hour on I-40 towards the mountains. At Exit 121, we got off the interstate and continued for another hour on these “middle of no-where” roads until we reached the park on S. Mountain Park Road. The first stop being the park office as you should know me by now…had to get that stamp.
As I have just received my “prize pack” from NC State Parks, I wanted to share some of the gifts that they presented — A cooler, sunscreen, sticker, compass/carabiner, bug spray, and wrist band. Not too bad for visiting 10 parks! I’m anxious to see what 20 does. The motivation that this Passport has created seems to grow as I already have this yearning for exploring. It will be an achievement when I finally reach visitation of all 50 NC State Parks.
Our next stop was hitting the trail and we planned on hiking for the entire day. Starting on the Hemlock Nature Trail (0.3M), it was rated easy and is the more scenic route to the other trails. Marked with a white triangle, it was absolutely beautiful! Because we had arrived so early it wasn’t crowded at all, so we were able to take our time and read some of the signs and information along the way. It’s a great trail along the river, and allows visitors the option to swim or fish. Caroline was in the water lightening fast and immediately started splashing around.
As this trail ends, it leads right onto the High Shoals Falls Loop Trail (2.7M). Rated strenuous, we noticed it started heading uphill and we prepared ourselves for the difficulty that was ahead.
Marked with a blue circle, this trail really wasn’t as strenuous as some of the other hikes we have done, but still, challenging at best. I gazed upon the forest foliage that surrounded us and enjoyed the fact that we were still hiking along the river. It was a nice day and I was happy to be here in the wild.
It’s along this trail where you can catch some nice waterfalls and plenty of people catching a dip in the cool mountain water. Caroline and I enjoyed hopping rocks and looking at the many different small waterfalls. Exploring around here appeared to be an endless opportunity when you branch off the trail a little.
There are strict fishing rules so be sure to check out all the information on that before you attempt to fish. And as always, be careful in the river because the rocks are slimy and slippery.
After a few grueling staircases later, we finally reached the big waterfalls, and man, they were amazing! Filled with people, so be prepared for yet another crowded park in the wonderful time of summer — but worth the trip and well-worth the stairs leading up.
Along these waterfalls there are wooden bridges taking you through, but that didn’t stop others from hopping down and enjoying a nice cool-off in the water. As you keep walking along the bridge and up some more stairs, you are rewarded with an 80-foot waterfall sitting high above you.
As we made our way through the “point of interest” on this particular trail, we came around to a few campsites alongside the river and stopped to enjoy some water and snacks while Caroline got to swim in the deeper water. I observed some new growth in the trees, and noticed a lot of of rock cairns which seems to be pretty popular nowadays.
From a little research I’ve learned that some environmentally friendly people think cairns are bad, but here’s my take on it: They are useful in the back-country because it lets you know someone else has been there and you feel a sense of ease that you really aren’t all that lost (because in our case, we get lost all the time). But I also agree that cairns are becoming widespread and I get that everyone wants to build one, but they aren’t being built for the right purposes anymore. If I were to ever build a cairn, it would be the only one in sight, and I would build it in an area where someone would benefit from it in the future.
Here’s a little article if you wish to explore further on this: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/best-reads/2015/10/23/cairns-stone-rock-stacks-sedona/32413703/
As we packed up and headed off the loop trail, we headed on to our next trail which connects on the loop — Chestnut Knob (2.1M). Marked with a white diamond and rated strenuous as well, at this point we just didn’t care.
Walking along, some noticeable man-made benches were seen and people had signed their mark on the handrails alongside the trail. A couple of ginormous trees had snapped and fallen down and were laying across the path, making you duck or go around to get through. It was uphill for the majority of the time, but once at the top it was a huge relief and the nice cool breeze was very refreshing.
We headed to the left to observe the overlook and we were surprised as only two other people were up there on the rock. They soon left and we set up our hammocks and endured the BEST hour long nap of my life. I awoke, forgetting where I was, and once I realized, I sighed a sigh of relief and closed my eyes again for a moment until we started the pack up and hike down.
The views were not my favorite, but they were still spectacular and the nap is what really made this day the best. We hiked out of there and continued the journey home just in time for dinner. An easy day compared to others and another NC State Park marked off the list! 11 of 50, we are on a mission.
Until the next adventure, hike safe!