Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Other Crowders Trails

I haven't written about Crowders Mountain State Park, yet, because it seems to me most folks have discovered it on their own, thank you very much. Given its proximity to Charlotte, Crowders Mountain is a super accessible -- thus, super popular -- destination for hitting some trails that end with a spectacular summit view. It's a great, local alternative to a trip to Western North Carolina when you have a hankering to be adventurous in the great outdoors.
Make no mistake, we love Crowders Mountain, and we visit its peak frequently. More often these days, though, we opt for other equally (if not more!) enjoyable trails and impressive summit views, also within Crowders Mountain State Park.
If you're familiar with the geography of the area, which is about 30 miles west of uptown Charlotte, you might know that Crowders Mountain is at the northern end of a small range that is bookended by Kings Mountain further south. In between is the Ridgeline Trail, an eight-mile (one way) natural surface trail that connects the two.
Leaving the Sparrow Springs Access parking area of Crowders Mountain State Park (as opposed to the Linwood Rd. Access parking area, which is closer to the peak of Crowders), you can hop on the first leg of the Ridgeline Trail by way of the Pinnacle Trail (orange circle blazes), a two-mile (one way) trail that takes you to the top of King's Pinnacle, which, at 1,705 feet, is the highest point in Gaston County.
The Pinnacle Trail is one of our favorites for three of reasons.
1) The Pinnacle Trail tends to be less crowded than the more popular Crowders summit routes. On a pretty spring day, you'll still need to arrive early to grab a parking space, but the trail meanders such that you're not stumbling on fellow hikers' heels at every step. Plus, there's more space at the summit to find an unpopulated spot to enjoy the views, take a picture and have a quiet moment of rest.
2) The trail itself, which is designated as "strenuous" thanks to the rocky terrain and stretches of steep ascent, is challenging and fun. It starts flat and smooth, providing a nice warm-up. Around a mile in, you're greeted with a large crop of boulders, perfect for climbing, exploring and rock-hopping. There are a few of these boulder-strewn sections over the course of about a half-mile. Then the terrain flattens as the trail steepens. The last section includes a few switch-backs and steep climbs over rocks and roots. The trail dead-ends at a wall of rocks you get to scale before you're rewarded with a remarkable 360-degree view.
3) Compared to the top of Crowders Mountain, the King's Pinnacle summit is spacious and sprawling. The landing area you first come to is sandy and ringed by rocky crags. This is a great place to stop for a spell, get a picture and have a snack. But don't settle in too long; there's more to explore. There are unofficial pathways to both the left and right of the main summit area. It takes some climbing and maneuvering, but going either way, you'll be rewarded with beautiful views and a sense of discovering uncharted territory. (NOTE: Always use extreme caution at the top of the mountain. Take your time. The ledges are steep and can be dangerous.)
On the way back down, we like to branch off of the Pinnacle Trail about 0.7-miles from the summit and take the Turnback Trail (white triangle blazes) back to the visitor's center and parking lot. The Turnback Trail is the same two-mile distance, but a little wider, gentler and less steep, which is a nice change of pace after the climb. Plus, it's fun to cover different ground.
When you're up for a mountain hike, Crowders Mountain State Park is a fantastic option. Consider taking the trails less traveled. You'll be glad you did.
How to get there:
The Sparrow Springs Access parking area is located at 522 Park Office Ln., Kings Mountain, NC 28086. The Pinnacle Trail trailhead is just to the left of the visitor's center. You'll start on the Crowders Trail (white diamond blazes) before turning left on to the Pinnacle Trail (orange circle blazes). To take the Turnback Trail back to the parking lot, follow the Pinnacle Trail back down the mountain, but veer right at the trail intersection to take the white triangle blazes. The Turnback Trail will bring you back to the southeast corner of the visitor center parking lot.
Don't forget to take:
  • Water: Keep hydrated. You can refill at the restroom facilities in the main parking lot.
  • Snacks: You'll enjoy a chance to re-fuel at the top.
  • Comfortable hiking shoes: Hiking boots or something supportive are preferable.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: It's especially wide open at the peak.
  • A light-weight bag: To carry your phone, camera and supplies.

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