Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury North Carolina might just be one of my favorite NC State Parks. It’s about 2 hours from Raleigh, making it an accessible day trip to the mountains.
The park is part of the Sauratown Mountains which is a small group of mountains oddly away from any other nearby ranges. They were once part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but millions of years of wind, and erosion wore down the peaks, leaving only a few still standing. Nearby Pilot Mountain State Park is also part of this small group.
The mountains that survived are made of quartzite which is resistant to erosion. You’ll find large portions of the Hanging Rock trails rocky and challenging. There’s a payoff though, five amazing overlooks.
Think of Hanging Rock as a gorge. The rim forms an oval with a depression in the middle. The lake is in the middle of the depression.
Four of the overlooks are on one side (Hanging Rock, Wolf’s Rock, House Rock, and Cook’s Wall), and the fifth (Moore’s Knob) is on the other side.
You don’t have to climb, descend, and climb again unless you want to. There’s plenty to do in each location.
- Hanging Rock Park Entrances
- Things to Do at Hanging Rock State Park
- Tips for Visiting Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock Park Entrances
Hanging Rock State Park has four entrances. The main entrance, which is where most visitors go, is off Hanging Rock Park Road. Check the park’s website for addresses and GPS coordinates to each entrance as well as gate hours. The hours change depending on the month.
Visitor Center Entrance
The main entrance provides access to most trails including the five overlooks, campgrounds, mountain biking trails, and lake area. If you pop “Hanging Rock State Park Visitor Center” in your GPS, this is where it will take you.
There’s a large parking lot in front of the Visitor Center and another lot further up the road at the Lake area.
You’ll also find three waterfalls in this area, Window Falls, Hidden Falls, and Upper Cascades.
The Tory’s Den parking area is where many equestrians park. Horses are only allowed on the Ruben Mountain Trail and part of the Tory’s Den Trail which are both accessed from this lot. Horses are not allowed on Tory’s Den Trail past the second intersection with Ruben Mountain Trail heading toward Moore’s Knob.
You can get a park map of the trails which notes trails open to horses here.
Tory’s Den trail is named because it leads to a cave where over 100 Redcoats hid during the Revolutionary war. When you see the cave, it’s hard to imagine over 100 people huddling inside. The full story is posted at the kiosk in the parking lot.
There’s also a waterfall near the den.
Dan River Access
Dan River Access is for kayakers and industrious hikers that want to try to make a run from the bottom of the park at the river to the top of the mountain and the Visitor’s Center, or even up to Moore’s Knob.
Lower Cascades parking offers access to the 0.4-mile Lower Cascades Trails that leads to a 35-foot waterfall.
Things to Do at Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park offers several outdoor activities making it one of the best places to get Outdoors in NC. You can kayak, hike, mountain bike, camp, go rock climbing, have a picnic, or cool off in the lake just to name a few.
In addition to the 5 overlooks, there are also 5 waterfalls you can visit in the park. Three are found at the main entrance near the Visitor Center, the other two are at separate entrances. You can easily visit all three in one day.
Hanging Rock has 15 hiking trails. While most of the trails are moderate to strenuous, there are a few easy ones. You will find that many of the trails are rocky, especially up by House Rock and Cook’s Wall. Sneakers won’t be comfortable if you plan to enjoy any of the peaks. I’d recommend trail runners, hiking shoes, or hiking boots.
While I usually head to South Mountains State Park for a weekend of backpacking, Hanging Rock is my go-to for training and often just to get away for a solid day hike.
We won’t go into detail on all 15 trails here, but there are a few highlights. If you’d like to find your next favorite trail or loop in the park, check out our post on the Trails and Hiking Loops at Hanging Rock State Park.
Hanging Rock Trail
The most popular trail in the park is Hanging Rock Trail which leads to the park’s namesake overlook. It doesn’t seem bad at 1.3 miles one way, but it’s difficult. To reach most views, you have to go up and this is no exception.
The trail starts on pavement, then segues to gravel. You’ll start to feel the incline at this transition. From here, it becomes steeper, then levels off to give you a breather. You’ll need it because next up are the stairs. Lots of stairs, including several rock steps which are large.
It’s a doable hike for most people as long as you take your time and stop when you need to. Rest assured, the view is worth it. And remember, it’s a lot easier coming back down.
Moore’s Wall Loop
Moore’s Wall Loop is another popular trail. It’s what I call a lollipop trail. You start on a small section and then reach the intersection for the loop. You can go left or right. When you finish the loop, you’ll reach the same intersection and will follow the lollipop “stem” back to your car.
If you go right at the loop, get ready for more stairs. Going left seems like a good option, but it also has challenging elevation gains. Here again, the view is worth it.
For an easier time, from the main parking lot, head down Indian Creek Trail to see the two waterfalls, Hidden Falls and Window Falls.
Another easy hike is the Lake Loop.
Camping at Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park has 73 family campsites spread over two loops. Each loop has its own bath house with showers and flush toilets. There is also a sink to wash dishes.
The sites are large with a tent pad, picnic table, and fire ring. While some campsites can accommodate an RV, there are no electrical hookups or dump stations. I sometimes see airstreams or small campers at the sites, but most campers use tents.
There are also five primitive group camping sites, each able to accommodate six to sixteen people. The group sites have picnic tables and a fire pit. Nearby is a pit toilet. The sites are close enough to the parking lot that you don’t need to hike in your gear and there are water spigots to load up on drinking water. A trash can is available in the parking lot.
If tents aren’t your thing, you can rent one of the ten cabins at the family campground. They’re temperature controlled and have bathrooms and a kitchen with dining space. Each cabin has two bedrooms each with two twin beds. You’ll need to bring your own sheets and towels.
An added bonus is the screened porch which makes morning coffee or watching the stars in the evening a pleasant, bug-free event.
All campsites and cabins must be rented in advance.
Swimming at Hanging Rock State Park
The 21-acre lake is open for swimming in the summer. Families can enjoy sitting on the beach or cooling off in the water. The kids enjoy the diving platform where they can practice their cannonballs.
Next to the lake is a covered picnic area with restrooms and a snack bar. There are also picnic tables and grills just beyond the building.
You can check out the fees and hours here.
Rock Climbing at Hanging Rock State Park
Rock Climbing is allowed on Cook’s Wall and Moore’s Knob by permit only, but the permit is free. Climbers can access the area from the Climbing Access lot at 1035 Climbing Access Drive.
Mountain Biking at Hanging Rock State Park
The mountain biking section is fairly new and has already gained quite a bit of traction from the community.
There are nine trails ranging from 0.5 miles to 3 miles in length. Several of them intersect and can be joined to create longer loops. There are no easy trails. They’re all rated either intermediate or advanced and I’ve heard from bikers that have been on them that they’re correctly rated.
Access to the mountain biking trails is off Hanging Rock Park Road. Just before the park entrance, make a right onto Moore’s Springs Rd. The parking lots are down the road, between Dan George Road and Ed Booth Road.
Tips for Visiting Hanging Rock State Park
With so much to do, Hanging Rock can seem overwhelming. There’s usually plenty of parking. I was there on a recent Saturday and while it was busy, there was still parking available.
Hikers should be in good shape before tackling the majority of trails in the park. If you want to hike the Hanging Rock Trail to the overlook, come early so you’re not hiking in the mid-day heat. Bring plenty of water because the hike up may take longer than you anticipate.
Checking the Weather
Before heading out, check the weather for Danbury, North Carolina. It’s usually an accurate depiction of the weather at Hanging Rock.
Grab a Map
The Visitor Center also has maps available.
How to Avoid the Crowds
Arrive early and you’ll beat most of the crowds. If you head up to Hanging Rock around 9 or 10 am, you may have it to yourself. You’ll likely pass a lot of people heading up as you’re going down.
The waterfalls photograph better in the morning light. During sunset, the light is directly on top of them making it difficult to avoid the glare.
Most people head up Moore’s Knob via the steps. They go right at the loop intersection. If you go left and head up the back of the mountain, it’s a lovely hike and you’ll encounter fewer people.
Try the Chestnut Oak Nature Trail by the Lake. It’s not too difficult and there never seems to be anyone on it.
For an easy hike, the Lake Loop is rarely used and offers nice views of the lake.
Always Read the Trail Signs
Hanging Rock is a bit odd where several trails are not loops and they connect with new trails oddly. For example, if you pick up Wolf’s Rock Trail from the Hanging Rock Trail and keep walking straight, you’ll come to an intersection. Going straight transitions you onto Cook’s Wall Trail. Making the right-hand turn will keep you on Wolf’s Rock Trail.
Keep this in mind as you’re hiking and pay attention to the blazes.
Also, both Magnolia Springs and Wolf Rock Trail take you to the bottom of the mountain where you can get to the Lake Access Parking, but only the turn at Wolf Rock Trail notes this. For some reason, the park seems to want to push you to go down Wolf Rock Trail. It does drop you off closer to the parking lot. But they’re both nice trails.
Make sure you have sunscreen and bug spray. The park can be hot on the rims with a lot of direct sunlight. Down at the bottom, it feels tropical and can be buggy.
In the winter, dress in layers and be ready to remove one or two. In the summer, keep it light.
Ask for Help – People are Friendly
Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you become confused or aren’t sure where you are. Many people who hike at the park are locals or regulars who are happy to point you in the right direction.