Hanging Rock State Park is filled with interesting geological features and stunning views of rolling mountains. This 7,869-acre state park has more than 20 miles of hiking trails, a scenic lake for swimming and boating, and campsites. And as one of North Carolina’s easternmost mountain ranges, Hanging Rock is the perfect day trip or weekend getaway from quite a few of North Carolina’s busiest cities, though it’s not far from Winston-Salem. Since we’ve taken more than a few day trips to Hanging Rock and think so highly of it, we thought we’d share just how you can enjoy all the fun inside.
Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park’s peaks pop out of the surrounding countryside with an elevation ranging from 1700 to 2500 feet. Due to its distance from the Blue Ridge as part of the isolated Sauratown range, Hanging Rock’s nickname is the “mountains away from the mountains.” The park sits in Stokes County, part of North Carolina’s Piedmont region. However, more than 700 species of mountain flora also reside in the park. That creates some interesting pairings, as Hanging Rock is one of the few places where both Canadian and Carolina hemlock grow harmoniously. The Blacksburg salamander (formerly classified as Wehrle’s) also resides in the park’s streams and forest beds, and peregrine falcons have been known to nest here.
Getting to Hanging Rock
Hanging Rock State Park is just 30 miles north of Winston-Salem and is reachable via Hanging Rock Park Road and Moore’s Spring Road. Most directions will take you through the beautiful town of Danbury, just four miles south of the park. After entering the park, you’ll eventually reach the beautiful and well-maintained visitor’s center. Step inside and ask one of the helpful staff (Susan is great!) for a recommended itinerary. You can also take in views from the back porch before starting your day in beautiful Stokes County.
Things to Do at Hanging Rock State Park
As the namesake trail of the park, it’s the most popular. The 2.6-mile roundtrip trail starts out slow and hilly but ends with some huffing and puffing to the top. The views make the trip worth all the trouble. You’ll have plenty of selfie and #instaworthy spots with the iconic “hanging rock” if you’re brave enough to scale out to the end of the rugged rock.
Moore’s Knob is a 4.70-mile loop that starts at Hanging Rock Lake. It’s one of the longer and more strenuous trails in the park. Moore’s Knob also happens to be the highest point in the park at 2,579 feet and features a stone observation tower with 360-degree views. On clear days, it’s said you can see Mount Mitchell Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain from the historic tower.
Cook’s Wall is Moore’s Knob’s sister peak, but vastly different. While the 4.40-mile trail is less trafficked than the others, it’s still a spectacular place to catch views of soaring eagles and fall foliage. Also, you can admire North Carolina’s iconic Pilot Mountain from this peak!
Five Peaks Challenge
If you’re up for a real physical test, try the Hanging Rock “Five Peak Challenge!” Through this fast-paced 10.1-mile loop, you’ll conquer Moore’s Knob, Hanging Rock, Cook’s Wall, Wolf Rock, and House Rock. Most hikers recommend completing it counterclockwise, starting with Moore’s Knob and ending with Hanging Rock. The Hanging Rock trail does get busy, so the earlier you start, the better.
Grab some water shoes and spend some time cooling off at Hanging Rock State Park’s five beautiful waterfalls. Lower Cascades features a shallow pool perfect for getting close and enjoying the cool water. Its 170 stairs take you down into the valley and you end up at the base of this beautiful rushing water. The park’s other waterfalls (Window Falls, Hidden Falls, Upper Cascades, and Tory’s Falls) are easily accessible via short trails.
Note: Swimming is NOT recommended at these falls, but the distinct nature of each makes them all definitely worth seeing!
Experienced climbers can enjoy Hanging Rock State Park, too! For an extra thrill, you can hang onto both Cook’s Wall and Moore’s Knob’s cliffs, up to 400 feet high. Just a reminder, a permit must be acquired by the park office before climbing.
Swimming (see fees below) and boating ($7/hour) are popular activities during the summer at Hanging Rock State Park’s 12-acre lake. Private boats are not allowed, but rowboats and canoes can be rented to use on the lake. Those with a North Carolina fishing license can fish from the lake for bass, sunfish, and catfish. And if you’re hungry or need a break from the water, there’s even a well-maintained snack bar and lounge area next to the beach access. From the park’s north side, you can access the Dan River, which is popular for kayaking, canoeing, and tubing.
Swimming Fees: $6/day for 13-year-olds and up. $4/day for children from three to 12 years old.
The towns of Danbury and Walnut Cove are nearby, but the park has 60 well-maintained and shaded picnic sites. There are also picnic shelters available for reservation for larger groups. We like to pack some sandwiches, fruit, and chips to chow down when we get down from the peak on one of the picnic tables you’ll find at the visitors center or near the lake entrance. One picnic table is wheelchair-accessible and both drinking water and restrooms can be found near the picnic sites.
Our Favorite Mountain Away from the Mountains
We mentioned earlier that Hanging Rock State Park is near Winston-Salem, Greensboro and other spots in the relatively flat Triad region. The park is also only two to two-and-a-half hours from Triangle cities Durham and Raleigh. Being close to so many of our state’s busiest places really makes this an enticing drive, and why we can easily call Hanging Rock State Park our favorite mountain away from the mountains.