Would you just look at this view? It’s really spectacular when you think about it — reaching the peak of the summit and being able to look east for miles and in one direction, then turn around and look north towards the start of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are few places like this in North Carolina and Hanging Rock State Park is one I believe is a bucket-list excursion for locals and travelers alike.
Located in Westfield, North Carolina, Hanging Rock State Park is part of the Sauratown Mountains, named for the Saura Indians who were early inhabitants of the region. Millions of years ago, these mountains were much taller than they are today and were made up of many different kinds of rocks and minerals. Over time, erosion took away the softer minerals and revealed the harder quartzite underneath, which is what we see today when we visit Hanging Rock.
I decided to visit the park along with a few friends for two reasons: First, the last few hikes I’ve been on were solo, and I was ready to bring some pals along with me to enjoy the day. Second, having read the cliffside rules on the NC State Parks website (you can look here), I figured a couple of friends on the journey would ensure a safe and fun hike.
There are fifteen trails to explore at Hanging Rock State Park, but we stuck with two for the day. Starting at the Visitor Center parking lot, we made our way onto Hanging Rock Trail and began the climb to the top.
If you looked straight up at the sky, you could see the peak of the trail. It was fun to imagine how all this quartzite was covered so long ago, and what things may have looked like when softer rocks were on top.
Quartzite is a metamorphic rock, which is harder and therefore more resistant to weathering. But where did that softer rock that was on top go? Geologists believe the weathering and erosion took some of that softer sediment to the Dan River, and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean.
Less than an hour later, we made it to the top. We took this opportunity to sit and enjoy the view. At over 2,000 feet in elevation and over 1000 feet higher than the rest of the Piedmont region, I tried to remember a time when I could see so far out in the distance.
After a good look at the view from the top (and a quick snack break), we headed back down to the trailhead and decided to check out the Upper Cascades waterfall.
A short hike downhill brought us to the waterfall and a wooden observation deck, where we could enjoy more of quartzite’s beauty. Similar to Hanging Rock, water erosion made a pathway through the softer minerals until it hit the harder quartzite. As water flows and falls to the bottom, it continues to erode more of that softer rock, which creates the pool of water at the end of the waterfall.
Can you see some of the moss and ferns formed around the rock? As the water sprays the cliff, it creates a high-humidity environment, perfect for all kinds of plants and animals to flourish. It also makes the nearby rocks extra slippery, so I stayed close to the wooden observation deck and enjoyed the waterfall from a distance.
The sun was just beginning its journey west as we made our way back to the parking lot. The golden glow of the park made an extra-special ending for our trip to Hanging Rock.
I’d like to think of the quartzite that makes up Hanging Rock as a present being opened very, very slowly. Like millions of years slowly. And the wrapping paper that is now North Carolina’s sandy beaches is like a really nice bag the present came in that you can use later!
OK, probably a bad metaphor. Either way, Hanging Rock State Park is a real treat and a fun example of the unique geology that makes North Carolina so special.