Thursday, December 9, 2021

South Fork Rail Trail

A friend recently invited me to take a hike along the South Fork Rail Trail, located in Lincolnton, N.C., about 45 minutes northwest of uptown, and I'm so glad she did. This trail, a segment of the Carolina Thread Trail, is a beautiful place for a stroll through the woods. It also offers an opportunity to learn a little bit about local history. 

The South Fork Rail Trail, a 1.8-mile (one way) natural surface and crushed gravel trail, is situated in the 324-acre Rhyne Preserve, a tract of land protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. It runs along the South Fork of the Catawba River and is relatively flat, making it an excellent option for an easy hike or beginner mountain-biking outing. There's one street crossing where Southfork Rd. bridges the river, but the trail is otherwise protected and traffic-free. 

This is a beautiful area, featuring views of the river and rock outcrops, a bald cypress swamp, a shady mature forest canopy, and lots of wildlife. (South Fork Rail Trail is a part of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation Butterfly Highway.)

Another point of interest is the historic Laboratory Mill, located just across the river from the trail. You can see it about a quarter-mile into your hike. (You'll also pass it on your drive to the trailhead parking lot.)

Known as the Lincolnton Cotton Factory from 1819 to 1863, in addition to processing cotton, this water-powered mill once served as a laboratory established by the Confederate States of America to manufacture drugs from indigenous plants. There is some speculation it may also have been used for the production of gunpowder. You can read more about the mill's history here. The preserved building is now an event venue

The South Fork Rail Trail is open dusk 'til dawn daily. At the gravel trailhead parking lot, you'll find plenty of parking and a trail map kiosk, but no restroom facilities. 

If you're looking for new territory to explore, grab a friend and check it out. I think you'll be glad you did.  

Note: The South Fork Rail Trail is different from another of our favorites, the South Fork Trail. Similar names, both situated along the same river about 20 miles apart, and each excellent options for outdoor exploration. 

How to get there: 
The South Fork Rail Trail trailhead parking lot is located at 2677 Laboratory Rd., Lincolnton, NC, 28092. 

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