Why is it that we often look beyond the treasures in our own backyards for outdoor pursuits and getting in touch with our natural world? For many years, that was the case with Crowders Mountain State Park, less than an hour west of Charlotte.
But in part because of the economic meltdown of 2008, the park has been “discovered.” In just four years, visitors have jumped well over 100 percent from just more than 321,000 in 2012 to more than 675,000 in 2015.
What’s the draw?
They rise from gently rolling terrain, two massive peaks that seem out of character for the landscape. Forvisitors and locals alike, the two distinct mountain forms are iconic landmarks marking the beginning of the Foothills region.
Geologically, the two peaks are isolated remnants of what was, millions of years ago, a higher, longer and broader landmass. Crowders Mountain to the north, at 1,625 feet, and Kings Pinnacle to the south, at 1,705 feet, once served as a natural boundary between the hunting lands of the Catawba and the Cherokee. Later, in their shadow, patriots marched to battle, defeating the British at nearby Kings Mountain during the latter stages of the Revolutionary War.
Today, they are a source of beauty and recreation in Crowders Mountain State Park, which opened in 1974 and now has more than 5,100 acres.
If your have the ability, a hike to either or both peaks will be justly rewarded. The Rock Top Trail (1.5 miles one way, strenuous) is an option to get to the top of Crowders. The Pinnacle Trail (2 miles one way, strenuous) leads you up the Pinnacle. Free advice: Take your time, rest and enjoy the sights along the way.
There’s more to the park than the peaks. There are more than 18 miles of trails ranging from easy to strenuous traversing interesting terrain and habitat. The Ridgeline Trail, at 6.2 miles, joins Crowders Mountain to Kings Mountain State Park and also Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina. It can be accessed by the main area of the park or from the Boulders Access area off of Van Dyke Road.
Like to camp? There are both family and group camping options; you reach them via a 1-mile hike. Good news: The sites can be reserved in advance. For the day-tripper, the park has a large picnic area. The 9-acre lake offers the pleasant and easy 0.8 mile Lake Trail, fishing access for bream, catfish and largemouth bass (N.C. license required) as well as canoe rentals.
Another popular activity at the park is rock climbing on Crowders Mountain, which features vertical cliffs from 100 to 150 feet in height. This is a strenuous and dangerous activity that requires registration.
A visit does not have to be one of high adventure to be rewarding; in addition to interpretive programming and hikes (check their site for a special 14-mile, ranger-led hike on April 30), the park is a great place to view a wide variety of flora and fauna throughout the year. Wildflowers, birds, mammals and even reptiles are all here to be discovered for the patient observer.
Best of all, the park is right here in our own backyard.
Admission is free and most programs are as well. Day-visit hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, April and October; to 9 p.m. daily May-September; shorter hours in other months. Be aware that the park can be extremely busy on weekends; though there are two primary parking areas, it is not uncommon to have to wait in line for entry. Check ahead. Contact info: 704-853-5375 or www.ncparks.gov; campers can access the reservation system from this site or at 877-722-6762.
Mark Alan Hudson
Gastonia’s Main Street area (www.cityofgastonia.com) is just 15 minutes away on U.S. 74. Nearby are interesting shops, galleries and restaurants. Hungry? Try lunch at the Spindle City Cafe (www.spindlecitycafe.net) featuring sandwiches, soups and salads. Lily’s Italian Bistro (www.lilysitalianbistro.com) is a lunch/dinner option with a causal vibe. For a bit more upscale dinner experience, Webb Custom Kitchen (www.webbcustomkitchen.com) offers seafood, steaks and specialty items.
Must-see parks nearby include Rankin Lake, Lineberger Park and the Avon-Catawba Greenway. For an unusual art experience, visit the gallery and studios of Arts on Main (www.gastoncountyartguild.com). And don’t forget the Schiele Museum of Natural History (www.schielemuseum.org), a great spot with indoor and outdoor exhibits, a planetarium and special programs. During May and June, check out Gastonia’s summer concert series on the second and fourth Fridays at 6 p.m.
Area info: www.visitgaston.org.