Last weekend I took advantage of the last days of fall color with a visit to Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area in nearby Hillsborough, N.C., for a hike with my daughter and son.
This was my second time here; the first was in May. As I mentioned in my last post, the name of this small state park intrigued me, because we don’t live in the mountains. It’s hilly, but here in central North Carolina we’re a few hours’ drive away from the Blue Ridge.
But sure enough, Occoneechee is a small mountain. At 350 feet above the terrain, it is the highest point in the county (867 feet above sea level) and its summit offers a nice view of the area. This is also the highest point in North Carolina between Hillsborough and the Atlantic Ocean.
The park encompasses 190 acres of land and has four trails. Fishing is permitted on the banks of the Eno River and in the two ponds on site. Rock climbing is not allowed. Leashed dogs are welcome. There are restrooms and picnic tables by the parking lot, which is where the trail begins and ends.
We spent about 90 minutes on the wooded 2.2 mile loop trail, which was mostly covered in fallen leaves but still navigable. As with all mountain nature trails, the inclines, declines, and occasional stair steps add some challenge to the walk. The loop trail goes by the river, and intersects with the overlook trail that leads to the summit.
An interesting thing about this mountain is that it used to have a quarry, and there are still boulders and evidence of past mining there. Be sure to look for the small sign on the trail indicating the quarry, and follow this short path to view it. The quarry was reportedly opened before the Civil War and used for fill material during construction of nearby railroad tracks and in the Hillsborough area.
Another interesting feature of this park is that it is literally right next to the interstate, and on the trail you can hear and see traffic in some spots. It is a beautiful wooded oasis among the busyness nearby, and a nice escape into nature. If you’re passing through on I-85 (exit 164) or I-40, this is a great place to stop and stretch with a refreshing walk. Admission is free.
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