Thursday, October 17, 2019

Ridgeline Trail

A while back, I wrote about what I called the "other" Crowders Mountain trail. Most folks who visit the park are familiar with the hike to the top of Crowders, whether you take the long way or the short. But our trail of choice has been the Pinnacle Trail, which offers just as impressive (if not better) views along a beautiful, but slightly less popular (read: crowded) hike.

Today, I commend to you another "other" Crowders Mountain trail: The Ridgeline Trail. This Carolina Thread Trail is actually 12-miles long and runs from Crowders Mountain State Park to Kings Mountain State Park.

But, by no means do you have to do the whole thing to enjoy what the Ridgeline Trail has to offer. In fact, here's a wonderful, family-friendly option for a peaceful, moderate hike with a couple of fun features and overlooks along the way.

Start by parking at the Boulders Access parking area at the southern end of Crowders Mountain State Park, near the S.C. line (Note: There are three access points for Crowders Mountain State Park: Linville Road, Sparrow Springs and Boulders Access. Make sure you're explicit with your GPS.) The drive to Boulders Access is approximately 45 minutes west of uptown.

At Boulders Access, there's plenty of parking in a paved lot, a small visitor's center with bathroom facilities, and a picnic area. There's also a registration box and map kiosk at the trailhead. For your safety, fill out a registration form and leave a copy in the box before you begin your hike.

The trailhead is just beyond the picnic tables behind the visitor's center. From here, there are two good out-and-back hiking options, both of which follow the same trail and will reward you with a view and place to take a rest break at the turnaround point. The first is 3 miles (~1.5-miles one way), the second is 5 miles (~2.5 miles one way).

The first stretch of the hike is a 0.25 spur trail that will intersect with the Ridgeline Trail where you can take a left to head toward South Carolina and Kings Mountain, or a right to head north toward Crowders Mountain.

For this hike, take a right.

This gravel/natural surface trail is rated moderate, alternating between gentle undulation and a steady, gradual climb. Follow the red triangle blazes and look for half-mile markers along the way.

At the 0.8 mile mark, you'll have to cross a road. Use the crosswalk and caution to cross safely.

About a mile and a half from the trailhead, you'll reach Buzzard's Roost, a giant outcropping of boulders. This area offers several overlook options and a landing for taking a rest. Kids will enjoy exploring the big rocks and you might catch a glimpse of some rock climbers.

Turn back here, or continue along the Ridgeline Trail for another mile through Piedmont hardwood forest to another overlook (especially impressive in fall/winter). This turnaround point is a large, open area marked with a bench for taking a snack break.

Of course, you can continue on for many more miles, or head back to the parking lot from here.

If you're planning a trip, note that the leaf forecasts call for peak color in this area by early- to mid-November, which will make the hike particularly rewarding.

However far you care to hike and no matter when you plan to go, you'll find the Ridgeline Trail to be a pleasant option for a refreshing walk in the woods.

How to get there: The Boulders Access Area of Crowders Mountain State Park is located at 108 Vandyke Rd., Kings Mountain, NC 28086.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable shoes: Hiking boots or something sturdy to traverse rocky terrain and short climbs.
  • Water: Refill at the restroom facilities.
  • A day pack: With snacks or a picnic lunch.
  • Hiking stick: Optional, but helpful.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The hike is shady, but there are open areas along the way.

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