Crowders Mountain State Park, NC
**We originally hiked Crowders Mountain State Park in 2012, and this trip draws heavily from that visit…so if you see some fashion styles that appear ‘so yesterday’, this explains it.
**We have added Crowder’s Mountain to our list of Best Hikes in the Carolinas. It’s got some very fine trails if you can find a time when the park is relatively quiet.
Crowders Mountain is a 5000+ acre State Park located in North Carolina’s Piedmont, encompassing part of a range of small peaks that include (further down the line) Kings Mountain, SC, the site of a famed revolutionary war battle. The state set the land aside in the 1970’s to prevent mineral development on the mountain. Now, it serves as an important recreational area for the largest city in the Carolinas.
It is quite close to the city of Charlotte, NC. Because of this proximity and the range of available activities here (Hiking, rock climbing) Crowders Mountain tends to be…Crowdy. However, that’s not how it got its name, apparently it was named after a local man.
Crowds or no, this park boasts some very unusual rock formations, perhaps rivaled only by Hanging Rock in the Carolina Piedmont. These are Crowders Mountain, proper, and the Pinnacle. Both of them, by the way, are Monadnocks (shout out to my NH peeps.)
Another of my favorite Monadnocks…
A few years back Sylvia and I did make the trip down I-85 to press in with the crowds around Crowders Mountain. Here’s the report of what we found.
It took us perhaps 3 hours to reach the park from Raleigh. It was a very fine spring day, and by the time we arrived, the visitor center parking area was already beginning to fill up. I spotted a red breasted nuthatch busily attacking a telephone pole, and took this as a good sign.
We got hold of a park handout map and started hiking.
At 1705 feet, King’s Pinnacle is actually the larger (and from a distance, more impressive) of the two small peaks enclosed within the boundaries of Crowder’s Mountain State Park. The trail leaves right from the visitor center and is a 2-mile shot to the summit.
The trail itself is not difficult, apart from some eroded bits. One the way there are some impressive views up at the cliffs which frown down on the trail. This picture was taken in mid-April when leaves were mostly on (Charlotte usually ‘leafs on’ a week or so before Raleigh.) November-March these views might even be better.
The summit was crowded but we were able to find a spot to ourselves to relax and take some pictures. The view here is expansive, being 180 degrees over the Piedmont with a partial view out the other way toward the plainly visible Blue Ridge.
The city of Charlotte, 25 miles away, is also plainly visible.
After soaking in the views here, we headed down and went across the way to park’s other signature hike, that being it’s namesake.
Crowders Trail/ Backside Trail/ Rocktop Trail
Smaller but more interesting to hike, Crowders Mountain is accessed by a small network of trails. You can pick the trail up from the visitor center, which takes you across Sparrow Springs road and into an adjacent unit of the park.
We did the climb via the relatively wide and easy Crowders Trail, which showed a lot of signs of erosion, proof of the heavy usage it gets. While on the way up, I glimpsed a red fox on this trail.
The Crowders Trail soon cuts the backside Trail which makes a somewhat steep (though short) ascent to the summit. Part of this is a jeep road to service communication hardware on a nearby ridge. The last bit is over high, and sometimes badly eroded, step ups. It was early afternoon by now, and there were throngs sweating it up this last pitch, some moving slowly.
At the top of this pitch is the summit of Crowders Mountain, where there is an open ledge with fine view. Rock climbers often use this area, and while we were there, a team of climbers was present. Be sure to keep clear of their lines. The potential for a serious accident IS quite real here…two men died in separate accidents in 2014, and a woman was killed in 2016 when she fell from King’s Pinnacle.
However, it should be noted that with a simple exercise of caution and common sense, this area is NOT dangerous. Just don’t go attempting to re-enact scenes from “Cliffhanger” and you’ll be fine.
The descent from Crowder’s Mountain was probably the most interesting part of this hike. We went back via the aptly named Rocktop Trail, considered the most strenuous trail in the park. We very much agree…though the other trails really aren’t that difficult, and so not much as a baseline, Rocktop is far more challenging and interesting. It leads over a series of potholed rock ledges, some with cliffs on either side of them. The footing is quite rugged here, though the trail itself is short (less than two miles) Sylvia and I both enjoyed this part of the hike the most. I wonder of there are fossils in these rocks? I didn’t see any but looks like a good place to find them.
All too soon it was over, and we were back crossing road and headed into the by now quite full parking lot.
Note there is a longer trail called the Ridgeline Trail trail which leaves from King’s Pinnacle and continues on out the boundary of the park, across the South Carolina State Line, eventually terminating in King’ Mountain State Park in SC, six miles away. This in turn connects with a sixteen mile long trail that goes eventually to the Kings Mountain National Military Park.
By the way, after visiting Crowders Mountain we visited King’s Mountain Battlefield. It’s a nice place to walk around, especially if you like history. There’s no real hiking there, though.
Worth the Crowds (but dodge them if you can)
Sylvia and I enjoyed Crowder’s Mountain State Park. The interesting rocks, fine views and challenging trails make it a superior experience than our own Triangle Area training ground, William B. Umstead State Park (though we like Umstead too.) The major issue with this park is its closeness to Charlotte, which results in it being loved to death. This is a crowded place.
We still think Hanging Rock State Park is the best place to hike in the Piedmont. It has a more extensive trail network, a wilder feel and is slightly less crowded. The crowds definitely influenced my opinion here…I have hiked Hanging Rock when it was not very crowded and when it was. I have only hiked Crowders when it was. If I were to do this again on a day where solitude was possible (mid-winter perhaps) I might well come back with a different opinion. We definitely liked the short Rocktop trail…it may be the best stretch of trail in the area.
We recommend Crowders Mountain to any fit person regardless of whether they are a regular hiker or not. This trail can be done any time of year; we recommend late fall or early spring, but it could be done in winter, too. There is a danger of falling from the ledges but only if one is careless. Pets should restrained and children kept under close supervision.
If you do wish to come here to rock climb, remember you need a permit. Call the park or the website for details…and good luck!
Since we have friends in Charlotte we are bound to visit again. If after our next visit our opinion of this park evolves, we’ll post it here!