Last Updated on July 14, 2021
Last Updated on July 14, 2021
Stone Mountain State Park sits in both Alleghany and Wilkes counties and is one of our favorite parks to visit in Western North Carolina. The moniker comes from the massive dome that looms large over folks climbing it or hiking around the namesake Stone Mountain Loop Trail.
And speaking of the hiking, visitors to the 14,353-acre park have long enjoyed the 18 miles of trails that lead to waterfalls (including Stone Mountain Falls and Widow’s Creek Falls), gorgeous views of surrounding mountains, and rhododendron-lined paths.
Add in plenty of camping spots, an awesome swimming hole, fishing opportunities, and you’ll see why Stone Mountain State Park belongs on our NC bucket list. It should be on yours, too, if you’re making one!
Inside this post about Stone Mountain State Park, we’ll share background info about this magnificent place, as well as all the things to do here.
- Background (Physical Features and Previous Residents)
- Today’s Stone Mountain State Park
- Things to Know Before You Visit
- Leave No Trace and Stay On Designated Trails
- Parking Info (and Accesses)
- Things to Do
We also included Stone Mountain in our NC Bucket List Book! This post is part of our series on hiking in North Carolina. We also mentioned Stone Mountain State Park in our guides to day trips from Charlotte and also, from Boone and even from Greensboro!
The Dome and Physical Features
As we mentioned earlier, the name Stone Mountain comes from the exposed granite dome that rises roughly 700 feet above its surroundings. It is part of a large pluton, which is bulbous, igneous rock formed by lava beneath the Earth’s surface hundreds of millions of years ago.
It’s current look and shape are due to wind, water, and other factors over said amount of time. Erosion is slowly continuing at the dome and if you visit soon after heavy rains, you might be able to notice the springs running down parts of it.
Previous Residents and Hutchinson Homestead
If you hike the Stone Mountain Loop (see below), you’ll notice the Hutchinson Homestead that sits on the “View” side of the dome.
That collection of buildings is a restored version of the 19th-century mountain communities that once lived on this land. Exhibits accompany the buildings and are a great learning tool for visitors of all ages.
Today’s Stone Mountain State Park
Stone Mountain State Park was established in 1969 and about 1,500 acres of the land that makes up today’s park was initially acquired. A series of donations and further acquisitions have boosted the park’s size to its current 14,000-plus acres of land.
Things To Know Before You Visit
Parking Info (and Accesses)
Depending on your planned activities and which landmarks you want to see, choosing where to park is very important.
Note: There are some places along the road between the Visitor Center and the Backpack Parking with spots for stopping. As we mentioned earlier, be mindful of any “No Parking” signs and respect them.
Upper Trailhead Parking (and Picnic Area)
If you’re coming from the Visitor Center, you’ll soon see a fork and your first options for parking. The RV/Tent Camping Area will be to the right and the Upper Trailhead Parking area and nearby Picnic Area to the left.
This is the most popular parking area, mainly because it’s the closest access to Stone Mountain Falls along the Loop, which we will cover in our “Hiking” section. There are restrooms and water fountains here, though I usually bring my own water before reaching parks.
75 tables are available at the Picnic Area if you brought lunch to eat before or after your day at the park.
Lower Trailhead Parking
Keep driving past the fork and you’ll cross over into Wilkes County toward the Lower Trailhead Parking. You’ll park here for the Loop, but to either hike up the “Summit Side” of the dome or to the Hutchinson Homestead on the “View Side” of the loop.
For those with limited mobility, you can drive to the homestead access point, but must place the required tags in a visible area upon parking.
Widow’s Creek Falls
Widow’s Creek Falls is the park’s very popular swimming hole. The mostly dirt and gravel parking lot can hold 10 to 15 cars (at most) and crowds come early, especially on hotter days. Please plan accordingly.
The last official lot you’ll see when driving through the park is the Backpack Parking and Registration. It’s for the Widow’s Creek Trail, which leads to campsites (see “Camping” below) during the 2.5-mile one-way hike.
Accessible Fishing Parking Areas
Along the East Prong of Roaring River between the Bullhead Creek Parking and the Bridle Loop Trail Parking are two accessible fishing piers, with accessible parking spaces provided.
Bridle Trail Parking
There are two parking areas for bridle trails, with Mountains-to-Sea Trail access off the John P Frank Parkway. If you’re coming via Oklahoma Road, turn left on Frank Parkway and you’ll see the trailhead on your right not long after.
The Bridle Loop Trail and Out-and-Back Trail access is located at the park entrance off Longbottom Rd.
Respect Parking Capacity
If the parking lots are full, plan to visit another day and do not park outside of designated areas. Some parks will tow cars outside officially sanctioned spaces.
With limited cell service at Stone Mountain State Park, discovering yours has been towed could turn your day into a very not-fun one.
Things to Do at Stone Mountain State Park
With so much land to explore, there are plenty of things to do at Stone Mountain State Park. Here are the most popular activities in alphabetical order, with emphasis on camping spots and trails in the “Camping” and “Hiking” sections, respectively.
There are three designated camping areas and each varies on offerings and access.
- Tent, Trailer, and RV Camping: 90 campsites are located to the right at the fork with the Upper Trailhead Parking area. All sites offer a tent pad, picnic table, fire ring, and grill. Showers and drinking water are located in this section.
- Group Camping: 4 group camping sites are located in the park and accommodate up to 25 people at each. Picnic tables, a fire ring, grill, and shower/water access are available at each site.
- Backpack Camping: 6 sites are located along the Widow’s Creek Trail and range from 1.5 to 3 miles away from the trailhead. This is the most primitive campground of the three and you’re responsible for all supplies brought here. “Leave no trace” is strongly suggested at the Backpack Camping.
For reservation info at all Stone Mountain State Park campsites, please visit this page.
As we mentioned in the “Parking” section, you’ll see spots along the road between the main parking areas. Many of these sit along the streams that run through Stone Mountain State Park.
The park has designated more than 20 miles of those as trout waters. Rainbow, brown, and brook trout are known to inhabit these waters. When fishing these streams, only single-hook artificial lures are allowed.
Note: The East Prong has been classified as a “delayed harvest” to protect the fish. No fishing is allowed here for 8 months out of the year.
Hiking Trails and Waterfalls
As we mentioned, about 18 miles of hiking trails await at Stone Mountain State Park. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail even runs through here, starting at the Backpack Parking area for folks heading on the Widows Creek Trail.
It runs along parts of the Stone Mountain Loop, too, with about six miles in total passing through the park on its way toward the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby.
Black Jack Ridge Trail
3 Miles Round Trip, Moderate (White Square)
To reach the Black Jack Ridge Trail, you need to first get on the Stone Mountain Loop, starting from the Lower Trailhead Parking. After you pass the Hutchinson Homestead, you’ll see the Cedar Rock Trailhead.
Follow it and not long after, you’ll see a fork that continues Cedar Rock one direction and the beginning of Black Jack Ridge Trail to the opposite. This out-and-back will take you through dense woods and if you visit during winter, will offer nice views of the dome.
Cedar Rock Trail
2 Miles Round Trip, Moderate (Red Circle)
Instead of continuing onto Black Jack Ridge Trail, you can keep going on the Cedar Rock Trail to the top of its namesake rock. From Cedar Rock, you’ll have views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
As with Black Jack Ridge, the Lower Trailhead Parking is your quickest access to Cedar Rock Trail.
Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail
1 Mile Round Trip, Moderate (Blue Circle)
To reach the Middle Falls/Lower Falls Trail, you’ll park at the Upper Trailhead Parking. This starts you near Stone Mountain Falls and the trailhead sits past the huge waterfall.
In my personal experience, this trail is best accessed during drier times. After periods of rain, you may have to walk across a semi-flooded stream to access the trail. You also may not be able to safely access both waterfalls, but the hike to and from them is nice, no matter when you visit.
It’s also a great side trail on days when the Loop is busy, since not many people seem to turn that direction when hiking.
Stone Mountain Loop Trail
4.5 Miles Round Trip, Strenuous (Blue Triangle)
The Stone Mountain Loop Trail is among the hardest but also the most popular at the park. It’s hard for me to tell you which parking lot to start from, because the two main landmarks sit about 30 minutes apart from each other.
You can hike the entire loop in about 2 hours or only hike the view side in about an hour.
If you start from the Upper Trailhead Parking you’ll begin near the top of the amazing 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls. You’ll meet a fork soon after starting, marked by an old stone chimney.
From there, you can head toward the falls and down the 300 wooden steps that run alongside them, or turn toward the Summit Side of the loop. One of the best views from the Summit Side isn’t too far from that.
Begin from the Lower Trailhead Parking and you can either start your ascent up on the Summit Side or head toward the Hutchinson Homestead and View Side of the dome. Accessible parking is available at the Hutchinson Homestead and official tags are required here.
If you’re completing the loop after starting at the Upper Trailhead Parking, you’ll remember that what goes down, must come up or vice versa. The 300 steps at Stone Mountain Falls are a doozy going up, but with plenty of places to stop and catch your breath.
Widow’s Creek Trail
5 Miles Round Trip, Strenuous (Orange Square)
Widow’s Creek Trail is the only official hiking trail that you can start without having anything to do with the Stone Mountain Loop. It does serve as a lengthy connecter between the Loop (via Wolf Rock Trail) and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
The easiest way to start is by parking at the Backpack Camping/Registration Area. You’ll pass the Upper and Lower Trailhead parking area, as well as the swimming-friendly Widow’s Creek Falls.
It will take you along the namesake creek and toward the backpack camping.
Wolf Rock Trail
1.5 Miles One Way, Moderate (Red Square)
Wolf Rock Trail is a connector trail between a few trails, starting at either the Stone Mountain Loop or Cedar Rock Trail. You’ll first see it not far from the Lower Trailhead Parking from the View Side of the Loop.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail meets the Loop via Wolf Rock Trail and you can follow it to Widow’s Creek Trail and beyond toward Devils Garden Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 235).
Horseback Riding Trails (Bridle)
Two Moderate trails are listed within the park, with another Mountains-to-Sea Trail connector that allows horses, too. Here’s info on the former two:
- Bridle Loop Trail, 2 Miles Loop, Red Triangle
- Bridle Out-and-Back Trail: 8 Miles Round Trip, Red Triangle
Both will lead you through woodsy areas, to views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, and also a look at liquor stills that were demolished during the Prohibition era.
Leave NO Trace
When you visit Stone Mountain State Park, we ask you to PLEASE leave no trace. That way, we can all enjoy Stone Mountain State Park as you did.
There’s a huge picnic area near the Visitor Center and Upper Trailhead Parking, with 75 individual sites. 3 picnic shelters are here, too, and can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.
However, you can use them free of charge when no reservations have been made. Please check with the park office before using the shelters.
One of the first times I visited Stone Mountain State Park, I saw people climbing the dome. This is not recommended for beginners and climbers are responsible for their own safety, which includes proper training and use of equipment.
Climbers are required to register beforehand and deposit in a registration box or presented to a ranger.
Stay On Designated Trails
Also, you might be tempted to go off-trail at Stone Mountain State Park but please don’t. Serious injuries and deaths have occurred, especially at Stone Mountain Falls. Please be smart, stay on designated trails, and respect fences and barriers.
We want you around so you can keep enjoying this park!
While you cannot swim at Stone Mountain Falls (you can wade your toes in the bottom), Widow’s Creek Falls is a nice swimming hole with a natural waterslide that’s smaller but reminiscent of Sliding Rock near Brevard.
I’m still trying to make it there before any kids arrive, so for now, I can offer a photo of the top section of the falls.
Ready to Visit Stone Mountain State Park?
Among North Carolina’s State Parks, we think Stone Mountain might be the most unique. Hiking around Stone Mountain Loop Trail and seeing the dome and massive falls are the main reason why this place sits on our bucket list.
But when you visit, you’ll see there’s plenty to explore beyond those two major attractions. And if you’ve been to Stone Mountain before, we’d love to know what you thought of this awesome place!
Let us know in the comments section or by email and keep the conversation going.
More Things to Do in Stone Mountain State Park
Nearby Places to Visit (and Stay)
When you leave Stone Mountain State Park, you’ll see quite a few cabins advertised. We haven’t determined which is our favorite yet but will let you know as soon as we do.
Also, here are some towns and points of interest near Stone Mountain State Park that you should know about.
Distance from Stone Mountain State Park: 17 miles (28 minutes)
Head down US 21 and you’ll run into Elkin before hopping on I-77. This is one of the best spots in the Yadkin Valley for, you guessed it, wine. Some wineries are kid-friendly, too, in case you brought the whole family along. Many of them are featured on the Surry County Wine Trail.
Distance from Stone Mountain State Park: 35 miles (45 minutes)
You don’t have to like The Andy Griffith Show to enjoy Mount Airy. And if you do, you can call this fun small town “Mayberry” as much as you want. Start exploring downtown and you’ll find some cool souvenir shops and yummy places to eat.
Personally, I like Walker’s Soda Fountain and The Snappy Lunch but you’ll see those food choices are tough to make, because of all the great restaurants in Mount Airy.
Pilot Mountain State Park is nearby, too, and an awesome spot for gorgeous views and hikes, too. Keep heading east if you want more hikes. Hanging Rock State Park is as far as we’ll go from Stone Mountain, at about an hour and 15 minutes.
Distance from Stone Mountain State Park: 16 miles (26 minutes)
In the opposite direction from Stone Mountain is Sparta, a lovely town that’s the county seat of Allegheny. Throughout the year, this is a great place to visit but the Mountain Heritage Festival (typically in September) is THE time to be in Sparta.
Distance from Stone Mountain State Park: 24 miles (38 minutes)
On the Wilkes County side of Stone Mountain is Wilkesboro, also known as the Moonshine Capital of the World. For folks who are into NASCAR history, Wilkesboro is a fabulous place to learn, as the site of the first-ever NASCAR track.
If you like music, you’ll know Wilkesboro is a popular place to be at the end of April during Merlefest. Each year, huge acts and bigger crowds visit this family-friendly festival around Wilkesboro Community College.
For anyone traveling from the east, Wilkesboro is a great introduction to the best North Carolina mountain towns!
Blue Ridge Parkway Stops Nearby (NC Side)
And finally, the Blue Ridge Parkway wraps around the north end of Stone Mountain State Park, and they’re about 15 minutes apart via US 21.
Cumberland Knob (MP 217) is one of my favorite spots to visit, not just because it’s where the Parkway’s original construction began. It’s a nice place to hike and enjoy some relative seclusion.
The Virginia border is just past it if you’re heading north, so turn around as quickly as you can and check out these other fun places to visit on the NC side!
Other places to enjoy stops include Stone Mountain Overlook (MP 232), where you can see part of the dome. Brinegar Cabin (MP 239) and nearby Doughton Park (MP 241) are very popular stops and New River State Park (MP 258) is well-known for hikes, tubing, and more water-filled fun.
Additional overlooks include Jumpinoff Rocks (MP 260) and a view of Mount Jefferson (MP 267). And about an hour away is EB Jeffress Park (MP 272), which leads to one of our favorite High Country Waterfalls (Cascades Falls).
We included these places and more in our guide to Blue Ridge Parkway stops!