Stokes County: Home of best all-around N.C. park?

Hanging Rock State Park in rural Stokes County might well be the best all-around park in the North Carolina system. It doesn’t boast the highest peak (Mount Mitchell) or the tallest dunes (Jockeys Ridge) or a Civil War stronghold (Fort Macon), but it’s got just about everything else. Though less than an hour’s drive north of Winston-Salem, this park seems a world away from modern metropolitan life. Covering just over 7,000 acres in the Sauratown Mountains, Hanging Rock offers a variety of outdoor activities. Add in several waterfalls, a cave, a fire tower and spectacular panoramic vistas, and Hanging Rock is a sure-fire hit.


Hanging Rock is approximately 118 miles from Charlotte, about a 21/2-hour drive.

To see and do

Twelve trails – covering more than 18 miles and leading to cascading waterfalls and spectacular overlooks, help make Hanging Rock one of the most visited parks in the N.C. system: It draws more than a half-million guests annually. Probably the most popular trail is the 1.2-mile trek that leads to the top of Hanging Rock, the craggy, quartzite outcropping that gives the park its name. From that vantage point, about 2,500 feet above sea level and 1,700 feet above the surrounding countryside, it is possible on clear days to see the towers of Winston-Salem. (Resist the urge to venture too close to the edge: There are no protective guard rails or safety devices.)

Hanging Rock Trail gets steep near the summit and is rated moderately strenuous. So 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 and rated strenuous, takes hikers across a footbridge and up to Moore’s Knob, at 2,552 feet the highest point in the Sauratown Mountain range. A fire tower-turned-observation deck is there. Descending along a different portion of the trail, you’ll pass Balance Rock, one of the park’s more interesting formations.

Five waterfalls can also be found at the park, each accessible by short and easy-to-moderate trails. 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; according to legend, the cave was a sanctuary for Loyalists during the American Revolution. The most picturesque waterfall is Lower Cascades. This is certainly the one to visit if your time is limited.

Activities are plentiful around the park’s 12-acre lake. Swimming is usually allowed during summer. The site includes a stone-and-timber bathhouse with restrooms, dressing rooms, a snack bar and lounge. Rowboats and canoes are available for rent, and anglers can fish from the shore, pier or lake. Common catches include bass and bream.

Hanging Rock is an ideal place to spend the night, and the family campground area offers 73 sites for tents and trailers, each with its own picnic table and grill. For those slightly less adventurous – and who plan far enough ahead to make the necessary reservations – the park also has 10 rental cabins. Each can accommodate six people and has a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. Contact the park for specifics.

Two picnic areas – one situated 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’s modern and spacious visitor center has an exhibit room providing information about the Saura Indians, the natural and cultural history of the region, and a video.