Deep at the southern tip of DuPont State Forest is an area loved by mountain bikers, but also a nice place for scenic forest, riverside, and small mountain hiking. The elevation is in the 2800-3000 foot range, so it’s ideal for winter hiking where you’re not likely to get deep snow like the 6000′ peaks in the nearby national forest. Start with a lovely forested hike around Burnt Mountain, then follow calm, meandering Little River as it heads toward the exciting waterfalls downstream. Finish your day with a climb up Cedar Rock for excellent long distance views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. This hike occurred on Friday, November 2, 2012 from 10:30am to 1:30pm. Our plan was to take the Burnt Mountain loop, then follow the Little River Trail to the meeting with Cedar Rock Trail. We would then do the loop up and over Cedar Rock.
Hike Length: 7.4 miles Hike Duration: 3 hours Blaze: No blaze, some cairns
Hike Rating: Moderate to easy Hike Configuration: Figure 8, double loop
Elevation Gain: 780 feet
Trail Condition: Excellent. DuPont trails always are.
Starting Point: Corn Mill Shoals Trailhead #19 on Cascade Lake Road.
Trail Traffic: We didn’t encounter other hikers, but there were 4 mountain bikers.
How to Get There: DuPont State Forest can be accessed from Hendersonville via Kanuga/Crab Creek Rd., from Asheville/Brevard via US64 and Little River Rd., or from Greenville, SC via Cedar Mountain and Cascade Lake Rd. Look for printed trail maps at public parking areas.
There was a lot of snow in the high country, evidence of the tremendous reach of superstorm Sandy. Reports from The Smokies had three feet on Mt. LeConte and four feet on Clingman’s Dome. The Blue Ridge Parkway was closed all the way from The Smokies to Asheville, and then again in the Craggy and Black Mountains. With that in mind, I thought it best to stick to a lower elevation hike just a few days after the storm. DuPont State Forest is always a good option for winter hiking.
DuPont has beautiful mountain scenery, just on a smaller scale. Instead of 6000 feet, the tallest peaks are in the 3500′ range. Instead of air temperatures as much as 20
° colder in the high country, and wind gusts that will chill your bones, DuPont is about the same as valleys in the area. Call me a winter hiking wimp. I just don’t like dangerous conditions.
After hiking the whole month of October by myself, it was great to have one of my Meanderthals companions back for this foray into the southwest corner of DuPont. We waited a bit for the morning sun to warm things up to about 50
°, then arrived at the Corn Mill Shoals trailhead on Cascade Lake Road at about 10:30. Parking is on the right side of the road and the trailhead is on the left.
Even at this lower elevation around 2700′, nearly all the leaves were off the trees
— another testament to the fierce winds we received from Sandy
— despite being 600 miles away. While certainly not as pretty and picturesque as what I’ve been finding in recent weeks, I always try to remind myself of one advantage of winter hiking. With all the leafless trees it is easy to see through the forest for views that simply don’t exist during other seasons.
Corn Mill Shoals Trail is a wide old roadbed that ambles through a mixed forest of typical Western North Carolina hardwoods and evergreens. That’s the photo at the top of this post. It’s the entry point to all the other great trails in this southern corridor of the state forest. It’s about 1/2 mile to the first junction with Burnt Mountain Trail, but if you go another couple hundred yards you will reach the other entrance to the Burnt Mountain loop.
This eastern trailhead takes the loop in a clockwise direction, one that offers a moderate, less severe ascent of Burnt Mountain. Beware, though, that by taking the trail clockwise you will be traveling the same direction as the mountain bikers, so keep your ears and eyes open behind you. It didn’t take long for us to be reminded as we encountered the first pair of bikers coming from our rear not far up the Burnt Mountain Trail.
Unlike what would be coming later on Cedar Rock, there isn’t really much to see on Burnt Mountain. It’s a tree-covered summit, and the trail kinda winds around the summit anyway. The mountain bikers love it though, as it’s a moderately sloped single track climb of about 250 feet, that then falls precipitously on the downhill side. The total length of the loop is just about a mile. As a hiker, be careful on the downside, it is pretty steep. A local mountain biking club has done a nice job of shoring up this steep section of trail.
Upon returning to the Corn Mill Shoals Trail, just head 50 feet to your right for the junction with Little River Trail and the next section of this hike. Take the left junction. This trail follows Little River, about 25 yards away, but you might not know it as the river is very calm and quiet through this section of the forest. Contrast that with what Little River becomes just a short mile away.
About half a mile into the trail you will cross a log foot bridge over Tom Creek and notice the large areas of exposed granite that become more and more frequent. Not far beyond the creek crossing the southern junction of the Cedar Rock Trail comes in from the left. Here is a complete, detailed trail report of that particular hike. For the rest of this report, I will only focus on what is different from that previous hike.
The Little River Trail continues past that junction for another half mile. It crosses Tom Creek one more time and also gets closer to the river. There are a few spots where the trail follows right along the riverbank. We got passed by another pair of mountain bikers along this wide stretch of the trail. About the time Little River takes a hard right turn to the east, the trail meets the northern junction with Cedar Rock Trail.
Soon after you will reach a cutout for power transmission lines. Keep your eyes peeled for cairns here as the trail goes up the hill, then turns back into the forest about 50 feet above. You don’t want to cross the power lines clearing. You will notice the forest changing from hardwoods to soft, and then you will pass through a natural granite pathway.
The rest of the hike is on granite, so be alert for changes in direction. There are a number of stone cairns that mark trail location and turns, but you will be proceeding in a generally westerly direction.
Every time I go to Cedar Rock I thoroughly enjoy it. The landscape is surrounded on all sides by tall mountains. The granite itself is multi-colored with lots of minerals, and is covered with thick moss/lichen vegetation that is quite cool and interesting to look at. Short, gnarly pines cling to the rock wherever they can find a break to plug a root and withstand the strong breezes that are inevitably blowing on Cedar Rock.
The climb is about 400 feet, but this north side access is not nearly as steep as the southern ascent. As we got near the summit there was still just a little bit of fall color clinging to the few pin oaks that are mixed into this predominantly pine forest. These small oaks are perhaps the last to hold onto their leaves. The tall grasses near the summit had turned to their winter wheat-like color and were waving to us on the breeze as we passed by.
Ahead, we could see the two girls who had passed us on their bikes back at the river. They were stopped at the junction of Cedar Rock and Big Rock trails for some picture taking and a well-earned breather. They asked if I would take a picture of them together which gave me a chance to use one of my favorite photography lines, “With your camera or mine?” Their quizzical look indicated the joke didn’t work like it usually does.
The trail junction is a 5-foot tall cross sign that stands in the middle of the granite summit. The view here is fantastic, about a 200
° panorama. My companion and I found a nice ledge somewhat out of the wind to relax and enjoy some lunch. The wispy tops on the grass rustled in the breeze along with the creaking of the pine boughs. It was one of those picture postcard puffy white cloud days. Just one problem!
The battery on my dSLR camera died. Oh Noes!
Back at the car I knew that this might happen. When I went to turn the camera “on,” I discovered that it already was. Apparently when I charged the battery the previous evening, I left the camera set to “on” overnight, so it drained a large portion of the battery power. Usually I carry a spare battery with me, but I changed packs for this hike and didn’t have the spare.
Well, there was always my trusty iPhone. When you peruse the hike photos below, keep in mind the last three in the gallery, taken on Cedar Rock, are from the iPhone rather than the dSLR. If that’s the worst thing that happens to me hiking then I am very fortunate.
After enjoying lunch and the beautiful scenery, it was time to head back down off Cedar Rock. We went down the trail that we came up in the report I described above. The trail descends the 400 feet pretty quickly and rejoins the Little River Trail between the two Tom Creek crossings. The complete Cedar Rock loop is about a mile in length. Then it’s about another mile back on Little River and Corn Shoals Trails to the parking area.
A very nice hike indeed. The weather was ideal. The 7+ mile length was just right to get some good exercise and, as always, the companionship was nice after a month of solo hiking. If you are a mountain biker or hiker looking for some lower elevation trails in the Western North Carolina mountains, then DuPont State Forest is just the ticket.