It might have been only 2,306ft, but we were determined to get to the tippy top of Stone Mountain.
For this weekend's adventure, we were headed to Stone Mountain State Park in North Carolina. We heard good things about the hiking in this park from another camper way back on another one of our trips and decided (for some reason...) that it'd be fun. So, we loaded up our hiking boots and made the hour and a half journey north.
We made it to the park a little before 8 pm. To be quite honest, we weren't entirely impressed. The pads were nice, level, and (most impressively) paved, but they were all very open. You didn't get much privacy and there weren't really any trees around to give you that "state park" feel. It almost reminded us of our KOA camping adventures two Christmases ago.
As we pulled in, I heard our neighbor yell "Cameron!" I was almost positive I didn't know anyone in these areas, so I looked over to see what was going on. Turns out, his young son's name was Kameron (yes, with a K). The little guy thought it was the coolest thing ever, and we had a good chat about his other names, jumping in puddles, and all kinds of stuff kids like to talk about. The dad was quite friendly too and really loved to talk...
We finished setting up the campsite and enjoyed a few "sodas" to keep the energy up. Since we got there a bit late, we didn't have time to start a fire. With the marvels of a brand-new trailer, we decided to watch "Mean Girls" before going to bed. It was a nice, relaxing night, blissfully unaware that we'd be half dead in a little over 17 hours.
The next morning, we woke up and planned our hiking trip for the day. There was a "5.5-mile" loop that took you to Stone Mountain Falls, a 19th century homestead, and the summit of Stone Mountain before returning you back to the campground. Well, we've done more than 5.5 miles before; how hard could it be?
I, being the genius that I am, thought it'd be best to take the loop clockwise to the waterfalls first and finish with the summit. There was a small "1/2 mile trail" that went to two other waterfalls. My argument was that if we summited first, we wouldn't have the energy to take the extra trail to see the other waterfalls. If we do that first, then we can see everything! For some reason, Rose believed me, and that's route we took.
To be fair, the map did say "strenuous," but we're strapping young(ish) people. We shouldn't have any problems! We left Lunabear back in the trailer and hit the trail.
I'm not saying that it wasn't pretty, but the waterfall turned out to be more of a water slide. If I had a tube, I would've proved it! The water didn't really fall as much as it gently slid down a smooth rock face. The trail started at the top of the waterfall and twisted its way down the rockface, so we could see the falls (slide) from all sides. It was super cool, and we got some awesome pictures at the bottom.
As we followed the trail into the woods, we found the small "1/2 mile" side trail to lead to the other two falls.
Notice the quotes around "1/2 mile" because it turned out to be a bit longer...
There were two more falls we were supposed to see: middle falls and lower falls. We found another fork in the road; one led to middle falls and the other to lower falls. We decided to hit middle falls first.
After a short walk, we heard the sounds of rushing water and found another (although smaller) water slide. It was cool but not quite as impressive as the bigger slide. We headed back to the main trail to make our way to lower falls.
To get to the lower falls trail, we had to cross a small river. And by cross a river, I mean we had to hop across some semi-slippery rocks like Frogger. Once we were on the other side, the trail went up and down over a bunch of hills—just enough to get us all tired.
After about 3/4 of a mile (hence the quotes), we came to another river. This time, there weren't any rocks to hop over, and we weren't about to summit a mountain in soggy boots. We were disappointed we didn't get to see lower falls (possibly lower slide), but we had bigger fish to fry. We did get to see some friends on the way back!
Once we found our way back to the main trail, our fancy fitness watches said we walked about 4 miles. Seeing as how the entire loop was supposedly 5.5 miles and the extra waterfall trail was a half-mile, we started to get suspicious of the map's distance measurements...
We were also getting worried because we were both a little tired out from the easy water slide trails and knew that when it comes to hiking in the mountains, what goes down must also go up, and up, and up... Negative thoughts and aching legs aside, we decided to carry on and achieve our goal of summitting Stone Mountain.
After a couple more miles, we found a clearing in the woods and a massive stone face towering above. We finally found Stone Mountain! It's quite an impressive thing. It's a giant, smooth rock dome that looks like it was almost sculpted.
Beyond the clearing, we found the 19th century homestead. There were a few hand-hewn log buildings with informational signs in front that said what the building was and what it was used for. I love historical things like that, so we took our time looking at everything (and catching our breath). We knew it was the last major stop before we started the summit trail.
After our brief pitstop (and a short discussion as to whether we should turn around or not) we headed for the top of the stone dome.
Slowly but surely, more and more steps appeared on the trail. And with each one, our legs got even more tired. At some points, the stairs disappeared entirely and gave way to pure rock with wire railings to hold on to. The map said strenuous, and it wasn't kidding!
We started to pass some other hikers who didn't seem to be in as good of shape as us. Everyone was huffing and puffing up the hill. One poor girl asked her friends ahead to call her mom for her. It was definitely a rough hike—one of the hardest we've ever done—but it turned out to be worth it in the end.
We cursed every step on our way up, but finally, we made it to the summit.
I don't think I've ever been so happy to know it was all downhill from there! We snapped a few pictures to prove we did it and made our way back to the campsite.
This was about the point I realized the mistake I made when planning the hike. From the summit to the beginning of the loop was only about 1/3 of a mile and hardly had a slope at all. As it turns out, we were camping on the backside of Stone Mountain. We were already there when we started the hike! If we went counterclockwise around the loop, the strenuous part would have been all downhill!
Well, at least we earned our "sodas" for the day...
Both our watches had well over 18,000 steps, 130 flights of stairs, and we finished the hike at around 8.5 miles total. We were happy that we did it, but I wouldn't say we were eager to do any more walking for the rest of the day. We made it back to the campsite and had a sit and some snacks to recuperate.
The only other things we wanted to accomplish for the day was to check out the gift shop and maybe see one more waterfall. Don't worry, this one didn't have a hike.
The waterfall was pretty, and was more of a "fall" than the other two slides. I was very happy that it was right off the road, so we didn't have to walk too far.
Next, we hit up the visitor's center. They had a bunch of old-timey stuff like a moonshine still, hunting rifles, a working loom, and a real stuffed black bear. Like any visitor's center, they also had a bunch of t-shirts and souvenirs to look through. Rose found some awesome shirts, so naturally, we had to buy them.
With our physical adventures over, we headed back to the campsite one last time to finish out the day. We relaxed, cooked burgers, drank some "sodas," before turning in and watching another movie in the trailer.
Although our legs weren't happy with us, we had a great time at Stone Mountain—just don't ask us to do it again too soon... please?
He likes pizza.