Distance – 6.9 Miles (Loop)
Total Elevation Change – 1078 feet
Highest Point – 2305 feet
Hike Rating – Moderate+
GPS – 36.3873 -81.0273
To get to Stone Mountain State Park from I-77 take exit 83 which is NC21 North Sparta & Roaring Gap. Once on NC21 North follow it for 13 miles to Traphill Road (aka State Road 1002) and turn left. There is a brown state park sign at this intersection. Proceed 4 miles on SR1002 to John P Frank Parkway and turn right. There is another brown state park sign at this intersection. Follow the parkway to Stone Mountain Park. This is a drive of about 2.0 miles. The visitors center will be on the right and it is worth stopping in if for nothing else than registering and getting a trail map. To get to the trailhead parking area, continue on the entrance road until you come to the large parking area on the left. There are facilities here and the trailhead is to the left of the restrooms.
On our visit we began at the Upper Parking Area and followed the Stone Mountain Connector Trail to the Loop Trail. The hike along this side spur is 0.3 of a mile and ends next to an old stone chimney. You can go left or right to complete the loop hike. In my opinion going to the right is orders of magnitude easier, especially near the summit. The switchbacks are steep if going counterclockwise (right) but going up the steps near the summit would be even worse. Early on the trail is easy to follow and modestly graded. If you’re going to do the loop and see all of the waterfalls (Lower and Middle) plan on just shy of 7 miles.
The first section of the trail is relatively flat as it winds through the forest but before long you will reach the steeper section of the trail. The first half of the trail takes you across the top of the lower plateaus. The flat section ends when the trail swings to the left and begins the ascent to the summit. A series of switchbacks help to mitigate the incline but parts of the trail are steep. There are going to be several side trails to the left. Each of these leads to an exposed rock face that provides views of nearby hillsides. We visited all of them and the views were worth the short detours. The easiest one to find is near an old fireplace. If you take this left it will deposit you on the rock face with a great view of the Stone Mountain Summit.
The rock faces are very deceptive. When you first emerge it looks like it goes for a short distance before plunging straight down. As you walk further out, you will see that they are more like a series of steps. Venture out as far as you dare but keep this in mind. At some point it becomes slip-and-fall deadly steep. Additionally, the further down you go the further back up you have to climb. If the rock is wet, I don’t recommend going out on it at all.
When the switchbacks end, the trail will turn to the left and ascend moderately toward the summit. The forest here is dense but there are potions of the trail that take you onto exposed sections of rock with great views. The summit is marked with a sign and if you go past the fence, you can venture out onto the rock. Just like the lower sections, the summit looks like it leads to a sheer drop but as you walk out you will see it gently sloping down to another level.
Aside form the tiered summit, there are numerous rock formations that are worth checking out. The exposed rock is littered with potholes, cracks and channels. It actually looks like a moonscape with the small craters littering the ground. Near the fence to the summit there is one collection of holes and depressions that looks like a giant dinosaur footprint. There is a lot of color in the rock and many different places to explore around the summit so take your time and enjoy the day. The same rule applies to the summit as the lower viewing areas. The tiered sections to get steeper and steeper until finally reaching a point were going any further is going to have a very bad ending. Use commonsense when exploring. It’s better to stop one step too soon than take one step too many.
The hike pushes the limits of kid friendly but my little adventurer did all seven miles without a peep of protest but she has been looking forward to this hike since last August when we hiked to the summit but didn’t complete the loop. Enjoy the summit because the descent for the loop hike isn’t easy. There are a lot of steps and steep sections to contend with but the trail was in excellent condition.
To continue on the loop hike pass through the gate and pick up the orange blazes as they head to the left. The trail will lead onto another overlook before reaching the steps. This section of the trail is almost all steps as the trail descends toward the lower parking area and the meadow below the rock face. It is the most difficult part of the hike but once you see the view from the meadow, you will forget about the steps. The trail will pass the lower parking area and the side trail to Wolf Rock. Just past the Hutchinson Homestead site the woods fall aside and leave a large open meadow that looks directly at Stone Mountain.
From this point the trail remains relatively flat as it picks up the creek. Around a mile from the meadow a trail will intersect from the right. This is the connector trail to Lower and Middle Falls. Half a mile past this intersection is Stone Mountain Falls. Roughly 300 steps are now between you and the top of the falls. Two tenths of a mile after the last of the steps the loop trail meets back with the connector trail to Upper Parking Area. In all, expect a hike in somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 miles with terrain ranging from easy to moderate to strenuous. If you’re going to see it all, figure on the whole day.