I started planning a fall weekend camping trip at Hanging Rock State Park at the first sign of cooler weather. Located in Stokes County, North Carolina, 30 miles north of Winston-Salem, the mountains slowly rise from the ground the closer you edge toward the state park. Desperately needing a change of scenery, my best friend and I set off on a girl’s weekend adventure, hoping to find peace and solitude while trying not to freeze during the night.
Hanging Rock State Park – Campground
Hanging Rock Campground has three different sections for camping. The upper and lower loop consists of 73 tent camping sites, each with a maximum capacity of six people and access to the restrooms and showers. Further south into the park, there are five primitive camping locations. Primitive camping is listed as group camping on the reservation site. Groups must be between 5 and 16 people to book these spaces. However, there is no access to restroom or shower facilities; the luxurious accommodations include only a wooden outhouse and a water spigot at these sites. Lastly, there are ten cabins on the property with all the comforts of home. These cabins sleep up to six people and are the perfect cozy cabins to wake up in on a chilly winter morning. There was a brief consideration of booking a cabin instead of camping, but as you can imagine, all the cabins are booked way in advance, leaving us to rough it in the wilderness.
We arrived at Hanging Rock campground just before sunset. After hours in the car, we were antsy to begin setting up our campsite. I picked the perfect campsite spot, number 15, on the upper loop; it was far enough away from the other sites that I couldn’t hear the conversations of our neighboring campers but close to the restrooms and showers. The only drawback was the lack of access to electricity anywhere. I knew the campsite was a non-electric site when I booked, but I wasn’t prepared for the bathroom not having outlets. How was I supposed to warm myself with a blow-dryer with no outlets!?!? The biggest challenge was charging phones and flashlights; we quickly relied on the car charger and our patience.
What the campsite lacked in electricity, it more than made up for in picturesque landscapes. Unlike camping last winter in Yellowstone National Park, where I had to shovel snow off my gravel tent pad, at Hanging Rock, the campsite was pristine. The fall leaves were neatly raked away, the fire pit was clear of ash, and the tent pad was elevated and partly fenced, making me feel a little bit safer from unwanted visitors.
The moon rose from the valley over our campsite like a dim street light. Besides a few calling crows, the only noise we could hear was the wrestling of the baron branches from the trees surrounding us. Our entertainment each evening was monitoring the fire that was insistent on dying. The gate to the campsite is locked each night at 8:00 p.m. It was too late at night once we realized we needed more than just wood to keep the fire going. As the fire and conversations began to dwindle, we figured it best to try to turn in early to prepare for a long day of hiking.
Hanging Rock State Park – Hikes
All well-planned hikes start at the Visitors Center. Before heading out, we picked up a paper map and downloaded the trail maps for the hikes. I was surprised to find cell phone reception throughout the entire park. Some apps took a little longer than usual to load, but I could use the All Tails map to check our distance traveled throughout the hike. There are 15 listed trails throughout the 9,000-acre State Park, most of which are less than two miles one way. On our full day of hiking, we chose the park’s namesake, “Hanging Rock Trail,” for our first hike and “Indian Creek Trail” for the afternoon.
Hanging Rock Trail
Knowing it would get warmer as the sun rose, I dressed in layers to help regulate my temperature, all of which I wanted to leave like a trail of breadcrumbs as I huffed up the mountain. The first quarter of a mile into the trail is a smooth paved path over steep hills. As we transitioned onto the dirt path, the incline did not relent. Halfway into the hike, we were greeted by railroad tie stairs and a giant warning sign of the danger this trail poses to hikers, including the risk of death. I rolled my eyes, thinking, “I’ve never met a more dramatic sign. I’m hiking a small mountain, not running into battle.”
The stairs were strenuous but worth every step to the vista overlooking the infinite horizon surrounding us. I saw the danger in standing on the edge of Hanging Rock; however, it wasn’t any more unsafe than standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, where there were no warning signs. The silent danger I did not foresee struck the next day when my hamstrings started to scream as I crawled from my tent. Rather than a risk of falling off a cliff, the greater danger was being immobile from pulling a muscle.
Indian Creek Trail
For those who are just on this hike for the picturesque waterfalls, you’re in luck. If the Hanging Rock Trail has the views, the Indian Creek Trail has the waterfalls. The entire out-and-back trail is over 7 miles. The two waterfalls are within the first mile; the bad news is its steep stairs most of the way.
The trailhead starts in a maze of picnic tables and shelters amongst naked trees that I’m sure were in full fall foliage two weeks before. The ground crunches as my boots meet the discarded leaves. Rather than the earth rising to make my strides shorter, it sloped down, spiraling to meet the creek the trail would eventually parallel. Hidden Falls was the perfect place for an afternoon snack. The sun, frozen in the same position since we left camp, made it hard to tell if time was moving as I watched the endless stream of water float over the rocks.
Rejuvenated from the protein cookie and crackers, we moved toward Window Falls. In hindsight, this is where I recommend ending the hike. The cave-like arch of the stone surrounding the falls looks like the movie backdrop for Jumanji. Stone steps carve a path to the base of the pooling water, while wispy trees fill in the space to prove what little shade they can. Past Window Falls, the trail begins to snake over the creek, acting as a guide bringing us deeper into the valley.
Before we knew it, we had made it to the entrance of the State Park. The scenery lacked the high-altitude views providing little reward, so we decided to turn back early on the trail. Everything within my body burned as the gentle valley turned into a jagged mountain. We stopped many times along the path (not to enjoy the scenery) to try and fill our lungs with as much air as they would allow. My hiking stick took the full weight of my body as I willed it up each step. At the top of the trailhead, a few other hikers congregated as if they had retreated from the front lines of a bloody battle.
Back to Civilization
Proud of ourselves for hiking all day, we spent the last hours of daylight exploring Danbury, the closest town with an open coffee shop. Do you know how people describe small towns as “one-stop-light towns”? Well, Danbury has zero red lights; I’m almost certain I didn’t even see a stop sign on my way into town (but this speaks more to my driving ability than the size of this town). Anyway, we were on the hunt for an afternoon latte and found the best coffee shop/art gallery/gift shop all rolled into one place. Rocky’s Coffee & Ice Cream is located inside The Arts Place, a cultural, entertainment, and visitor center hub of Stokes County, showcasing local and regional artisans and musicians through exhibits, a retail market, and regular performances for the community and visitors.
From the moment we walked in, we were greeted by the friendliest staff, eager to welcome and encourage us to enjoy our coffees throughout the building, including the upstairs lounge area. Handmade soaps, pottery, leatherwork, and paintings were just a few available art forms to purchase. We took our drinks to the lounge to make our plans for the following day since a tropical storm was forecast to bring rain no matter what direction we traveled.
Maybe it was two days of drinking instant coffee or too much sun, but both of our lattes were the best coffee either of us had in a long time. My friend travels the country for a living and is currently on a lavender latte kick, and this is her current top contender. I went for a brown-sugar cinnamon latte which equally impressed me. The entire atmosphere felt homie and relaxing. I contemplated taking a nap but decided to head back to camp to get a start on preparing dinner and fighting with our campfire one last time.
As we left the Hanging Park State Park the following day, we made one last stop at Rocky’s Coffee & Ice Cream to get a coffee for the road. As we drove on, I felt the slowness from disconnecting bring me a sense of calm I desperately needed. But most importantly, our first girls camping trip didn’t end in us killing each other.
The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article. If you find out-of-date or inaccurate information, I’d love to hear about it to update the article. Use the comments section below. Thanks!