By Avery Walker
The weather is heating up, and the long sunny days might have you itching for a hike through shady forests or a dip in cool mountain waters. These four hiking trails are hiding in plain sight on the northern end of the Triad, nestled into the Sauratown Mountains: an isolated mountain range that includes the peaks of Sauratown Mountain, Pilot Mountain, and Hanging Rock. Each hike features well marked trails and free access to the public, and each leads to its own unique and beautiful water feature.
Tory’s Den and Falls
Tucked away at the end of a dead-end road, under the face of Hanging Rock, lies a trailhead to one of the most overlooked waterfalls in the Sauras: Tory’s Den and Falls. The drive along Mickey Road offers expansive views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sauratown Mountain, and Hanging Rock. An easy 0.2 mile hike over a small ridge with more mountain views leads to the overlook of Tory’s Falls. The falls themselves are actually the tallest in the park at 240 feet, though an unobstructed view of the falls in their entirety is made impossible by steep drop-offs and vegetation. Do not miss the natural cave that lies another 0.2 miles down a series of wooden steps. Tory’s Den is a fascinating piece of local history, with stories dating back to the Revolutionary War era. You will want to take the time to read the history documented at the trailhead.
Perhaps the most well-known waterfall in the area, the Upper Cascades Falls are accessible to hikers of all ages and experience. Located inside Hanging Rock State Park, an easy 0.2 mile hike along a fairly level gravel walkway leads through a quiet stand of woods. The sound of rushing water meets your ears before you round the corner leading up to the falls themselves. No steps are required to obtain breathtaking views of this double-tiered waterfall. There are viewing platforms at different elevations, and benches for those who wish to take in the sight and sound of the roaring falls while taking a break. More adventurous hikers might take the steps leading down to a shallow pool at the base of the falls, in order to get a closer look.
Located outside the main gates of Hanging Rock State park is one of the most popular summer destinations in the foothills. The 0.4 mile hike to the base of the Lower Cascades is moderate to strenuous, including a series of steep stone and wooden stairs, but well worth the effort. The same creek that plunges over the Upper Cascades makes its way down to this 35-foot drop that collects in a wide pool perfect for swimming and wading in its refreshingly cool waters. On a hot summer day, it is common to find hikers of all ages, and usually a few furry friends, enjoying the cool respite of the naturally carved rock wall and the spray of the roaring falls. Stay a while and dip your feet in before venturing back up the steep trail.
The Indian Creek trailhead at the north end of the Hanging Rock visitor’s center parking lot will take you to two different waterfalls: Hidden Falls and Window Falls. At the beginning of the trail is an open, shaded area with picnic tables, providing a perfect spot to stop for a picnic before hiking on to the falls. The trail itself is moderate to strenuous, with a mix of gravel and natural surfaces, including stone stairs. Hikers can take their time with the more difficult trail, enjoying the views of two different faces of hanging rock, and taking in the smell of pine trees and mountain laurel along the way. Hidden Falls lies 0.4 miles down the trail. The falls themselves are a gentle cascade, as water tumbles over a stone stairway of rock formations into a wide, flat pool perfect for sticking your feet in the water. For those who want to put in a little extra work, climbing around the side of the waterfall offers a view of what gives the falls their name: an extra set of cascades hidden to the naked eye from the original path.
Following Indian Creek further down the trail leads to our final waterfall: Window Falls. What seems at first to be a single cascade, with a change of angle becomes not only a double, but a triple drop, with a third cascade hiding away behind the rocky outcropping. A natural rock window offers a view of the third cascade to those hikers willing to chance a closer look. The falls are most spectacular after a heavy rain, but hikers should be aware that the stone steps leading down to the base of the falls can be very slippery. Window Falls offers the unique opportunity to stand behind a waterfall, for hikers who want to carefully make their way across the river and behind the falls.
If you can, get outside this summer and enjoy the natural wonders of one of North Carolina’s most unique and beautiful areas.