Monday, June 25, 2007

Lower and Middle Falls, Stone Mt.

Stone Mountain State Park is located in Roaring Gap, NC and is home to four waterfalls. This park is not too difficult to find thanks to signs from the major roads. Detailed directions can be found at their web site. For those coming from Hwy 421, you would want to exit onto I-77 North to Elkin. After you pass Elkin, you need to branch off to the left onto US 21. The next turn will be a left onto Traphill Rd (SR 1002), followed by a right onto John P. Frank Parkway. The Parkway will take you into the park.

Once inside of the park you can choose two different routes to get to these two falls.  The first one is from the first trailhead that you come to.  This is the shortest route, but you will have to contend with over 300 steps at the Stone Mountain Falls.  I would recommend continuing on the road until you get to the main trailhead.  Here you will go past the trail map board and continue on the trail for a short distance.  You will come to a fork where you will go right.  This will take you toward the Stone Mountain Loop Trail as well as Wolf Rock.  You will pass the Hutchinson Homestead and the namesake for the park...a huge granite bald outcropping.  Your next fork will be to the left away from Wolf Rock Trail.  You will continue here passing the Cedar Rock Trail and eventually coming to the branch that will take you to the Lower and Middle Falls.

Take the right and follow the trail until you come to your first branch to the right which is to the Middle Falls.  This is not an impressive waterfall by any stretch.  It is barely worth photographing.  There is a nice little cascade just before the waterslide that is the Middle Falls.  It is interesting, but only mildly.  The Middle Falls is aptly named and suffers from the middle sibling syndrome.  It might be fine for spashing in the water, or sunning yourself on the rocks, but that is really just about all this waterfall is good for.

For the effort of this hike, you should really keep on going to the next waterfall stop at the end of the trail.  This is the waterfall that has captured my attention on a number of visits, and greatly benefits from recent rains.  If you find that the creek crossings along the trail are easy to navigate without getting your feet wet, you probably won't see much in the way of excitement at the falls.  However, if you find yourself more than ankle deep, you might just luck up and see some pretty interesting cascades.

A Pondering Moment

At the end of the trail you will find the Lower Falls which have enough interest to justify some camera work. This is a bit further down the trail, but not too far. I am not exactly sure of the exact distance, but from the split you are looking about 10 minutes worth of hiking.  It is a mile total off of the Stone Mountain Loop Trail.  Once there, you will find yet another waterslide that leads down to a swimming/fishing hole. Again, there is nothing particularly beautiful about this waterfall. However, just upstream you will find some small cascades. For us waterfall hunters, this is well worth the trip.  Actually, this is the saving grace for all three of the waterfalls along the Stone Mountain Loop Trail.

The main series of cascades are tucked under some pretty heavy tree cover, so sunny day photography is possible here. This cascade is very easy to get to from the trail and you can actually walk right out into the water. There are several locations from which photography is possible, but keep in mind that many of the compositions will require some serious cloud cover as large portions of the area are not in the shade.

The First Falling

As you see, these cascades do coninue for a good bit downstream.  There are three main cascading sections which are represented here in photographs.  These do require a cloud cover, and plenty of recent rainfall to keep the water levels up.  A word of caution to the photogapher though, the best compositions are found by standing in the water on the rocks and moss.  This is not the most stable environment, and your feet will probably get wet.  The rocks are slick, and the footing is not the best, but if you are careful and know what you are doing, you can get some beautiful images from these sections prior to the actual waterfall.

Dramatic Finish

While the cascades to the Lower Falls make this hike worth the trip, they are by no means the most beautiful waterfall in the park. If you only have time to visit one waterfall on a trip, I would say without a doubt, Widow's Creek Falls is the best waterfall in the park, and ironically the easiest to get to.

If you happened to get here by way of the Stone Mountain Falls side of the loop, you might be thinking that these waterfalls were not that difficult to get to. OK, they really aren't, but remember those 348 steps from earlier? Guess where your car is?  This is why I strongly recommend taking the long way which is only about two miles one way in order to avoid the stairs.  Your knees will thank me.


rap4143 said...

Greg what a beautiful image. I took three this weekend and will send to you....learning :).

bgilmore725 said...

We always hiked "up" to Beauty Falls, I think that was the name of the larger one. So, we'd actually be at the bottom of the falls, and we'd dare to enter the icy waters from that point. If we weren't too tired, we'd climb almost straight up to reach the top of the falls. The path that parallels the falls is like climbing a ladder, hand over hand. From what you have described, there are steps? Are you saying that now there are stairs that lead up to the falls? Or did you just count the number of steps you took? I don't recall there being stairs, so that may tell you how long it has been since we visited the Stone Mountain falls. I will say that this photo you took of the cascades is prettier than the actual water movement appears. My husband and probably spent many weekends at Stone Mountain long before it became a State Park. Such a beautiful, quiet escape so close to home. And now there are steps? Hmmmm. bea

rbrown6172 said...

wow....breathtakingly beautiful!

antlexsi1 said...

Absolutely Mesmorizing have got the talent, the eye....It great..