DuPont State Forest -- Stone Mountain Long Route (10-30-17)
Stone Mountain marks the highest point in the wildly popular DuPont State Forest which straddles the border of Transylvania and Henderson Counties. Known more for its waterfalls than its peaks the summits of DuPont don't tend to attract the attention other areas of the forest do which, to me at least, makes them all the more attractive. At 3,620' Stone Mountain certainly isn't a giant but through previous visits I had long discovered that this modest peak still offers some spectacular scenery from its summit, and for relatively little effort to boot. With the fall color season waning I wanted to fit in at least one more hike under the colors before winter set in. Needing a close-to-home destination, I turned my attention once again to Stone Mountain. I wouldn't be disappointed.
Though I had visited Stone Mountain a handful of times previously I had only ever climbed the peak via the shorter southern route. If you'd like to see a trip report for one of those hikes head on over to my Stone Mountain (short route) album for a look. The shorter route involves about 3.5-miles of walking and just shy of 700-feet in elevation gain. It's a pretty quick walk. On this day I not only wanted a bit longer hike but I just wanted to see how this longer route compared. The longer route pushes the distance to 5-miles and involves a climb pushing 1,200-feet which, to me, sounded like a perfect afternoon leg stretcher. Both the short and long routes start their climbs via the Rocky Ridge Trail. The longer route begins at the north end of the trail just north of the junction of Sky Valley and Old CCC Roads. Unlike pretty much every other trailhead in DuPont this northern trailhead for the Rocky Ridge Trail has neither a parking area or signage of any kind. If you go you'll just have find a place to park on the shoulder and look carefully for the unblazed trail as it departs from the road up into the woods. Despite the lack of signs or blazes it is apparent that the Rocky Ridge Trail sees a decent amount of traffic, though mostly from mountain bikers. It's obvious the trail was built for bikes, especially at the start, as the path ascends the ridge via wide sweeping switchbacks which are designed for wheeled visitors. The trail gains elevation quickly but its rarely more than moderately-easy in difficulty. Its also wide and easy to follow. The walk through the autumn woodlands is wonderful if you visit at a similar time to when I did. After a mile-and-a-half the Rocky Ridge Trail reaches its junction with the Stone Mountain Trail. The Stone Mountain Trail turns uphill while the Rocky Ridge Trail continues on to its southern end, which is the beginning of the shorter route up the mountain mentioned earlier.
The Stone Mountain Trail begins easy enough until its junction with the Switchback Trail. From that point, for the remaining 3/4-mile, the route is quite steep, washed out, and rocky. It's a fairly strenuous climb, and one that demands you watch your step. About a quarter-mile from the top the trail emerges into an overgrown field that, once upon a time, looks to have offered some nice views to the north. The surrounding forest and thick brush have all but obscured this view now, however, despite what you may read on the official DuPont webpage. Beyond the field the trail eases up a bit as it tops a false summit of sorts before making the last, and steepest, ascent of the hike. The last tenth-of-a-mile to the summit sees you gain around 200-feet in elevation! You'll know you're at the top when you finally break free onto open rock slabs. The summit isn't where the views are though. The first set of views is located a short distance north of the summit via a faint but discernible path. Open ledges in that direction offer views both to the south of the neighboring ridges of DuPont and also to the northeast of the French Broad River Valley and the Black Mountains beyond. The other views are found to the south of the summit. The ledges sporting these views are lesser known, however, and the path leading out to them is frequently overgrown and hard to follow. I've included pics and detailed directions in the album to help anyone looking to visit find their way. If you manage to get to the southern ledges you'll be rewarded with what I think are the finest views from Stone Mountain. Before you from these ledges is the majority of eastern Transylvania County and one of the nicest views of the towering Pisgah and Great Balsam Mountain Ranges to be found in this area.
As always this visit to Stone Mountain was immensely enjoyable, made more so by the remarkably vibrant fall color still hanging on this year. The long route was a nice alternate option for climbing the peak as well. It's no more scenic than the shorter route, but it does offer a bit more exercise, if that's what you want, and at least in the fall it offers more time under the colors. So between the two I'd say it all depends how much time you want to spend on the trail, that's the only difference. So without further adieu I present to you (once again) Stone Mountain...come along with me as I take a stroll trough the quieter side of DuPont State Forest, and enjoy the color show!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.221376, -82.586325
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Mileage Hiked: 5.0 miles Hike Duration: 2:15
Trailhead Temp: 50'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 2,500' Max. Elevation: 3,650'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,150' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 460'
Trails Used (blaze color): Rocky Ridge (unblazed), Stone Mountain (unblazed)