Tucked into the High Country near the Triad is an outdoor destination with much to offer.
Hanging Rock State Park, in rural Stokes County, is less than an hour’s drive northeast of Winston-Salem. It covers 7,000 acres in the Sauratown Mountains and activities range from canoeing, boating, fishing and swimming at a lake to horseback riding, hiking and overnight camping.
Twelve trails, covering more than 18 miles and leading to sparkling waterfalls and spectacular overlooks, help make Hanging Rock one of the most-visited parks in the state system with more than 500,000 guests annually. Probably the most popular trail is the 1.2-mile trek that leads to the top of Hanging Rock, the craggy outcropping of quartzite that gives the park its name. From this vantage, about 2,500 feet above sea level and 1,700 feet above the surrounding countryside, it is possible on clear days to see the concrete and steel towers of downtown Winston-Salem. The Hanging Rock Trail is rated moderately strenuous and gets very steep near the summit.
Another invigorating walk is the 2.2-mile Cook’s Wall Trail, which leads to the sheer cliffs of Wolf Rock. The Moore’s Wall Loop Trail, 4.2 miles, takes you across a footbridge and up to Moore’s Knob, the highest point in the Sauratown range (2,552 feet). From the fire tower-turned-observation platform, Pilot Mountain can be seen to the west. As hikers make their descent, they pass precarious-looking Balance Rock, one of the park’s many interesting formations. Several waterfalls can be viewed at Hanging Rock, each accessible by easy-to-moderate trails a half mile or shorter. The highest is Tory’s Falls, where water cascades 240 feet over a series of terraces. Near this waterfall is Tory’s Den, a small cave about 20 feet deep. Most consider Lower Cascades the most picturesque of the falls.
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Plentiful aquatic activities are in the offering around the park’s 12-acre lake. In season, swimming is allowed daily from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., although hours may vary based upon staffing. The site includes a stone-and-timber bathhouse. Rowboats and canoes are available for rent and anglers can fish from the shore, pier or lake. Common catches include bass and bream. The family campground area offers 73 sites for tents and trailers, each with its own picnic table and grill. The park also has 10 rental cabins available; reservations are necessary. Each can accommodate six people and has a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. Two picnic areas, one on a terraced hillside near the lake, the other near the Window Falls and Indian Creek trailheads, each provide 60 tables and 15 grills. The park opens daily at 8 a.m.; closing hours vary seasonally. Park admission is free; fees charged for swimming, cabins and certain other amenities. Details: www.ncparks.gov.
Along the way...
Mount Airy, the boyhood home of Andy Griffith, has an active downtown and the Earle Theater still shows first-run movies. Visit the Andy Griffith Museum. Mount Airy resident Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou on “The Andy Griffith Show,” makes afternoon appearances the third Friday of the month. The annual Mayberry Days festival will be Sept. 23-27. Area info: www.visitmayberry.com.
If you’re hungry/thirsty...
The Snappy Lunch, which opened in 1923, is a Mount Airy institution. This eatery(www.thesnappylunch.com) is only open for breakfast and lunch, so plan accordingly. The house specialty is the pork chop sandwich; you’ll see the chops sizzling on the grill through the storefront window. Up Main Street – past Floyd’s Barber Shop – is Opie’s Candy Store (www.markw.us/portfolio/opies), the perfect place to find a favorite snack. Along with ice cream, fudge, and bottled soda pop, Opie’s sells over 400 varieties of old-fashioned candy.