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Hiking the Hanging Rock Trail in Hanging Rock State Park (Everything You Need to Know)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on June 26, 2023.

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The Hanging Rock Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in North Carolina. Visitors from all across the state come to Hanging Rock State Park to hike this trail and explore the park’s namesake peak.

The trail is a relatively short 1.3 miles (2.6 miles round trip) long, but there are quite a few steep sections along the route. Another great thing about the Hanging Rock Trail is its warmer temperatures, meaning you can hop on this trail throughout much of the year if the weather cooperates.

Before checking out this trail, we have some important information to share with you! This article will cover info such as when to visit, where to park, and safety tips.

In case you’re searching for something specific, here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • The Hanging Rock Trail at a Glance
  • Driving Directions and Parking Information
  • Hiking the Hanging Rock Trail (from Start to Finish)
  • When to Visit (Daily and Which Seasons)
  • Leave No Trace and Respect the Hanging Rock Trail
  • Safety Info (Stay on Trail and Stay Hydrated)
  • More Hanging Rock State Park Things to Do and Hikes (Our Picks and Related Posts)

Read More: 41 North Carolina State Parks Sites and How to Enjoy them All!

The Hanging Rock Trail at a Glance (Hanging Rock, and the Sauratown Mountains)

Hanging Rock NC

The Hanging Rock Trail leads to Hanging Rock after a 1.3-mile hike. We made it to the top in about 40 minutes, but with multiple viewpoints and stops along the way, it can easily take an hour.

The peak sits at an elevation of 2,159 feet and is composed of quartzite, an erosion-resistant rock. Quartzite is also found at Moore’s Knob, Cook’s Wall, and other nearby peaks.

Speaking of its surrounding areas, Hanging Rock falls within the Sauratown Mountains, named for the Saura Indians. The Sauratown Mountains are North Carolina’s oldest and eastern-most mountain ranges and are often called the “mountains away from the mountains” due to their isolation from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Driving Directions and Parking Information

The quickest access to the Hanging Rock Trail is via the Hanging Rock State Park.

Although it’s not a national park or a national forest, there is still a nice Visitor’s Center, where you can find a Parking Lot (1005 Visitor Center Drive, Westfield, NC 27053).

The Visitor Center has restrooms, and there are additional restrooms a short walk away down the adjacent Indian Creek Trail.

Hiking The Hanging Rock Trail (From Start to Finish)

Hanging Rock Trail

The Hanging Rock Trail system starts on a paved descent for about 0.2 miles before changing to natural and gravel surfaces for the remainder of the route. The route then ascends downward until you reach a fork for The Wolf Rock Trail, a half-mile into the hike.

Hanging Rock Trail Stairs

After another climb, you’ll reach the foot of the peak and a set of stairs. I counted about 170 steps in the first section, which flattens out before you reach a steeper set of sometimes thigh-high rock steps.

You can avoid the last set of steps by staying to the right on the way up, but I’d recommend utilizing them on the way down.

After climbing these steps, you’re just a short walk from the peak. As you continue on a rocky trail, the Hanging Rock will eventually come into view.

Hanging Rock Trail NC

You can venture out onto the rock itself, though be cautious of the intense wind that may await you. As long as it’s not too crowded, you can usually find a place to sit down. Our “When to Visit” section will help you figure out how to avoid crowds.

Even if the Hanging Rock is busy, you can still enjoy some beautiful views before venturing back toward the parking lot.

Hanging Rock Trail Views from the Top

The peak boasts views of Moore’s Knob across the valley and Indian Creek below.

Moore’s Knob Trail Hanging Rock is another great hike in the State Park!

The vast valley surrounding Hanging Rock and its Sauratown neighbors will show you why this place is known as “the mountains away from the mountains.”

Returning to the Parking Lot

Hanging Rock Trail Wooden and Stone Steps

While your calves do the majority of the work up towards Hanging Rock, be ready to work your knees on the way down! The hardest parts on the return trip are the steep steps just after the peak and the final stretch of paved trail that ascends to the parking lot.

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

When to Visit (Daily and Which Season)

Hanging Rock Trail Fall Foliage

Even though there is a large parking lot, we highly suggest you arrive as early as possible to start the Hanging Rock Trail. That way, you can reach the top and enjoy some relative quiet with those epic views.

We’ve enjoyed the Hanging Rock Trail and the peak throughout the year. No matter when you visit, the views are always remarkable.

In the fall, the trail is beautiful, and the peak is especially stunning. The greens of spring bring blooming mountain laurels and rhododendrons that add to the journey.

When the summer heat arrives, so does the haze that somewhat limits the exquisite views from the top. I’m not complaining, though, as the peak is still a wonderful experience. The only issue is that summer is a hectic time for Hanging Rock State Park and all parks in general.

While winter tends to scare some folks off with the possibility of snow or inclement weather, it also offers some of the clearest views from the top. With each season adding something special, the Hanging Rock Trail truly is a four-season hike.

Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina

Leave NO Trace and Respect the Hanging Rock Trail

While hiking the Hanging Rock Trail, we ask you to PLEASE leave no trace. Trash doesn’t belong on our beloved Hanging Rock Trail.

If you’d like to lend a helping hand, bring a grocery bag of your own and pick up any trash that you see!

Safety Info (Stay on Trail and Stay Hydrated)

Hanging Rock Trail Summertime

We always urge caution when hiking; the Hanging Rock Overlook Trail is one where we will again recommend that you stay on the designated path.

Be sure that the Hanging Rock Trail map is pulled up on your phone before you go!

There are signs along the way, but we’ll reiterate that serious injuries and deaths have been reported here due to going off the trail.

During the middle of summer, the hike can be a hot and muggy one, even with the elevation and occasional breezes. We highly suggest packing more than enough water to get you through this hike.

We hope you’ll stay safe, stay hydrated, and enjoy this hike!

Ready for the Hanging Rock Trail?

We thoroughly enjoy hiking the Hanging Rock Trail and hope you do, too! A short trail paired with beautiful views makes for a lovely day in the outdoors. Add in the lovely colors of spring, summer flowers, or fall foliage, and this trail is tough to top!

If you’ve hiked the Hanging Rock Trail, we’d love to know about your experiences here. In case you haven’t visited yet, please share your first time with us here or in our Facebook Group. Photos and videos are welcome!

More Hanging Rock State Park Things to Do and Hikes (Our Picks and Related Posts)

Hanging Rock State Park Indian Creek Trail

There are 20 miles of hiking trails at Hanging Rock State Park, along with mountain biking trails, climbing opportunities, camping, and more.

  • The Indian Creek Trail is adjacent to the Hanging Rock Trail and has picnic tables with grills for those looking to picnic. Hiking an extra 0.2 miles along the Indian Creek Trail will take you to Hidden Falls and Window Falls.
  • Beyond the Visitor Center Parking Area, there are plenty more accesses in and around the main entrance gate.
  • Lower Cascades Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina and is accessed outside the main gate. You and your kids will love it!

Here are some more guides to Hanging Rock State Park beyond the Hanging Rock Trail.

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