Stone Mountain State Park (not to be confused with the famous North Georgia park) stands prominently just beyond the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.
It’s located just a few miles away from Doughton Park, the largest recreation area on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
Straddling the border between Wilkes and Allegheny County, Stone Mountain, NC is a beloved place for locals to hike, fish, picnic, ride horses, and survey the Piedmont spreading eastward.
This NC State Park has been in operation since the late 1960s. It has largely been largely by its landmark, granite-faced mountain, as well as the towering Stone Mountain Falls at its foot.
The 15,000 acres encapsulated by Stone Mountain State Park includes historic sites where homesteaders settled in the 1800s, first-rate camping facilities, miles of trails for hiking or horseback riding, numerous streams, and extensive picnicking grounds for day visitors.
STONE MOUNTAIN STATE PARK INFO
ADDRESS: 3042 Frank Parkway, Roaring Gap, NC 28668
STONE MOUNTAIN STATE PARK RESERVATIONS: Website
PARK HOURS: Nov through Feb 7:00am to 6:00pm; May through Aug 7:00am to 9:00pm; otherwise 7:00am to 8:00pm
VISITORS CENTER HOURS: 8:00am to 5:00pm daily March through Nov; weekends only Dec through Feb.
ENTRY FEES/PASS: None
THE HISTORY OF STONE MOUNTAIN, NC
Stone Mountain State Park was established in 1969 and became an official, nationally recognized natural landmark in 1975.
The area was originally settled by the Cherokee people. However, conflicts with European settlers ultimately led to the passing of the 1830 Indian Removal Act by the US Congress.
The Cherokee were then forced to leave North Carolina, bound for Oklahoma, in late 1838 as part of the horrible Trail of Tears event.
Following that, Stone Mountain was settled by European immigrants, including English, Irish, Scottish, German and French.
These colonial settlers built log homes and cleared farming lands. They also established churches and schools, and operated as self-sufficient population centers. To this day, Stone Mountain Park maintains historic sites related to these settlers.
The Hutchinson Homestead, located at the foot of Stone Mountain, was established in the mid-1800s and includes a log cabin, corn crib, smokehouse, barn, and blacksmith shop. Restored in 1998, it’s now one of the park’s major attractions.
There is also a church—Green Creek Baptist Church—from the late 19th century that still has services every Sunday.
THINGS TO DO AT STONE MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Stone Mountain State Park has 18 miles of trails crisscrossing its rugged landscape.
Many of them run adjacent to bold mountain streams, such as Widow’s Creek Trail. Others meander through the forest to reveal stunning vistas (see: Blackjack Ridge Trail), and some lead to one or more of the park’s beautiful waterfalls (see: Middle Falls & Lower Falls Trail).
But the park’s most popular trail is the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, which is a 4.5-mile trek that takes visitors to the summit of Stone Mountain, the Hutchison Homestead, and from the toe to the top of Stone Mountain Falls.
The 1175-mile Mountain-to-Sea Trail, which leads from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, also passes through the Stone Mountain, NC trail system.
There are several noteworthy waterfalls within Stone Mountain’s park boundaries.
Most are included on maps, but there are other, lesser-known falls that are fun to discover while hiking the less-trodden trails.
By far, the most popular and impressive waterfall here is Stone Mountain Falls, which plunges some 200 feet. It’s possible to wade around in the pool at the bottom of it, and there are a couple of observation decks from which to view it as well.
The other big waterfall here is Widow’s Creek Falls, which is especially popular for splashing in with kids.
Note that it does have some slippery rocks. But in the summertime, loads of families go there to cool off in the shade and wade in the creek.
Middle Falls and Lower Falls (which are not far from Stone Mountain Falls) are also marked on the trail maps. But take any of the trails that follow a creek and you’ll be sure to see lots of little cascades and smaller waterfalls that have been cited.
There are some truly fantastic picnic facilities at Stone Mountain State Park.
Near the visitor center, sprawled out in a hardwood forest, you’ll find over 75 individual picnic sites and three large picnic shelters open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis.
From the picnic area, a short connector trail takes you to the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, with easy access to the Stone Mountain Waterfall.
The field at the foot of Stone Mountain and just beyond the Hutchinson Homestead also makes a nice (though not quite as official) picnicking area that works well for spreading a blanket and enjoying the sunshine.
There is also a much-revered picnic table just across the street from the Lower Trailhead parking area. It is shrouded in shrubbery, and sits just beside a roaring creek.
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To be honest, the Garden Creek Baptist Church has little to offer in terms of tourism, aside from reverence for a quaint, old Blue Ridge mountain church.
However, visiting the Hutchinson Homestead is well worth the time.
First of all, the leg of Stone Mountain Loop Trail leading to the site is a beauty, with rhododendron splaying out over a cascading creek. The homestead appears just as the forest gives way to sunshine.
The homestead has lots of building to admire, and showcases pioneer craftsmanship and ingenuity. There is lots of antique farming equipment strewn about, as well as numerous informational plaques to help with painting a picture of what 19th century life was like here.
Just beyond the homestead, you’ll find a large field that provides a ground-up view of Stone Mountain’s stunning granite rock face.
Wherever there are seriously steep rock faces, it seems as if there are people who would like to climb them.
Stone Mountain does allow experienced rock climbers to scale its dome-like granite face, starting near the Hutchinson Homestead and ascending vertically all the way to the summit.
Climbers do need to register at the park office, but the required permit has no fee attached to it.
Avid anglers will adore Stone Mountain State Park, which offers up a bounty of Blue Ridge mountain streams filled with trout.
There are approximately 20 miles of designated trout streams located within the park’s boundaries– that’s more mileage than the hiking trails (18 miles)!
The East Prong of the Roaring river is a well-stocked trout stream, and it has two fishing piers available to use.
Five of the other creeks—Garden, Widow’s, Bullhead, Rich Mountain, and Big Sandy—are considered Wild Trout Waters.
But anyone fishing in the park does need to have the proper state permits to do so, including a valid NC fishing license and separate trout license. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission website can provide more details on that.
In addition to pedestrian trails, Stone Mountain State Park also has a small trail system that’s open to horseback riders.
It includes a trailhead with a large, open parking lot for horse trailers, plus bathroom facilities.
Bridle Loop Trail, Bridle Out-and-Back Trail, and Bridal Spur Trail are a connected trio that provide over six miles of picturesque riding.
Along them, it’s also possible to spot local wildlife, as well as check out on old liquor still that was utilized during the prohibition era.
STONE MOUNTAIN STATE PARK CAMPING & CABINS
TENT, RV, & TRAILER CAMPING
For visitors interested in staying at NC’s Stone Mountain Park, there’s a 90-site campground just across the road from the Upper Parking Lot.
Big Sandy Creek and one of its tributaries run right through these campsites, and there are two wash houses there with hot showers.
The individual sites all have fire rings, grills, picnic tables, and tent pads. Additionally, some sites offer electric and water hookups for trailers and RVs, as well as a dump site for registered RV campers.
While the typical campsites here have a six-person limit, there are also group sites available for up to 25 people.
There are also six hike-in-only campsites along Widow’s Creek Trail, which is part of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail.
These are rustic, minimum-impact sites where following Leave No Trace principles is mandatory. All your supplies must be carried in, and all your trash must be carried out.
Permits are required for use of these campsites, and backcountry camping is prohibited elsewhere in the park.
There are no cabins for rent within Stone Mountain Park proper.
But there is a nearby location along the John P. Frank Parkway, which leads into the park.
Stone Mountain Rentals offers two posh Blue Ridge Mountain cabins with luxurious features such as hot tubs, toaster ovens, gas log fireplaces, and TV.
There are certainly worse places you could choose to be based while exploring Stone Mountain, North Carolina! –by Jonathon Engels; photos by Emma Gallagher unless otherwise noted. Featured image via Canva