Morrow Mountain State Park (11-6-17)
Morrow Mountain State Park, located less than an hours drive east of Charlotte, is a 4,500-acre park formed in 1939 which protects some of the highest and most rugged terrain in the ancient Uwharrie Mountains. The Uwharrie's, which date back over 500 million years, once rose to staggering heights of 20,000-feet or more. Eons of erosion, however, have worn their peaks down to mere shadows of their former selves. Only a small handful of summits rise above 1,000 feet today. Morrow Mountain in fact, though being one of the highest Uwharrie's, doesn't even manage to reach that high. At 906' Morrow is much more hill than mountain but it still demands a good deal of energy to explore on foot due to the steep slopes and ravines which surround it. The landscape is rugged far beyond the standards you might expect surrounding such diminutive peaks. My plan for this hike was to take in as much of the park as I could in one continuous loop. This would involve starting out near the park visitor center and following a winding route over two of the parks highest peaks, Sugarloaf and Morrow Mountains, while taking in all of the beautiful late fall scenery along the way.
My hike would begin from the large trailhead parking area located between the Morrow Mountain Museum and the aforementioned visitor center near the center pf the park. I would first follow the Laurel Loop and Morrow Mountain Trails to the south before turning onto the Sugarloaf Trail for my first major climb of the day. The trail makes a remarkably steep climb as it attacks the eastern slopes of 858' Sugarloaf Mountain. The steepness of the climb is easily comparable to some of the more aggressive climbs I've undertaken in the much larger nearby Appalachians. I quickly learned another feature, or lack thereof, of the trails at Morrow Mountain...that is the lack of interest in switchbacks. More often than not, trails here simply attack head-on the hills and ridges they cross. It's a major reason why these seemingly unimpressive hills can require so much effort to explore. After huffing my way up a foggy Sugarloaf I continued my way south, following a rather roundabout route as I traversed the low ridge connecting Sugarloaf and Morrow.
About halfway into the hike I finally found myself facing the climb of Morrow Mountain itself. The ascent isn't quite as demanding as the one of Sugarloaf but it's still a climb that will get your attention. Just before reaching the parking and picnic areas at the top I turned to circle the summit via the Summit Loop Trail. Along this short loop are some of the nicest viewpoints that Morrow Mountain has to offer. From these openings in the forest canopy beautiful panoramic views can be had of the surrounding Uwharrie Mountains as well as the Pee Dee River winding its way slowly through the valleys below. They're admittedly not the most awe-inspiring views but they're still quite impressive considering you're standing at less than a thousand feet elevation. After making the loop of the summit I'd spend some time atop the summit itself. I spent a little time at the picnic area at the top waiting for the stubborn clouds of the morning to burn off and my patience was rewarded with a couple more pleasant long-range panorama's.
After Morrow Mountain I'd simply reverse course and follow the peaks namesake trail back north all the way to the trailhead from where I started. The return trek was nowhere near as difficult as my approach was, as the Morrow Mountain Trail avoids Sugarloaf to its east. I found t he trail to be well-travelled and well-marked as it wound its way leisurely through the still quite colorful late fall woodlands. It was a wonderful way to wind down a surprisingly demanding day on the trail. Overall, my experience at Morrow Mountain was very enjoyable. I got much more of a workout than I had expected and the scenery, while limited and a bit dulled by clouds, was still impressive. On top of it all the forests were still sporting a nice display of late fall color. I had been hoping for the opportunity to explore this particular unit of the State Park system for quite a while and feel quite pleased with what I discovered now that I finally have. So, come along with me as I explore yet another one of North Carolina's remarkable State Parks...and, as always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.376818, -80.071578
Mileage Hiked: 7.6 miles Hike Duration: 4:00
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 380' Max. Elevation: 906'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,070' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 141'
Trails Used (blaze color/shape): Laurel (red hexagons), Morrow Mountain (blue triangles), Mountain Loop (red square), Sugarloaf (orange diamonds)