Beautiful back country roads would bring you to what could easily be one of the loveliest North Carolina State Parks offering a wide variety of trails (over 40 miles) for each and every liking. From stunning views, to marvelous waterfalls, horse riding trails, biking and walking trails and unique flora and fauna this spot is sure to delight you and make you wish you visited here sooner.
With almost 87,000 acres of land, South Mountains State Park is the largest State Park in NC other than a myriad of National lands. The park features the states most rugged areas. With 3000 feet in elevation, 80-foot high waterfall, beautiful forestry areas, marvelous mountain streams and the close proximity to Charlotte, the park is the absolute perfect day trip and a great way to get outside. Of course if you wish to spend the night the Park offers camping.
The first thing you see as you enter the park is the gorgeous brand new Visitor Center. Make sure to stop in and grab a map or find a ranger who would gladly answer questions should you have any. From here continue up the winding road to the designated parking area depending on which trail you are choosing to do. We have small kids who are obsessed with waterfalls so we find ourselves always doing the High Shoals trail.
The 2.7 miles long High Shoals Falls Trail starts right off the parking lot following a well maintained and pretty wide path (logging road) passing by the large shaded picnic area and restrooms before coming to a bridge over Shinny Creek which you’ll cross. Small cascades are visible right before the bridge that turn into a little waterfall after a heavy rainfall. Continuing pass the bridge you’ll find 3 signs talking about the snakes you could possibly encounter on the trail and other details about South Mountain. Don’t worry we’ve been here a handful of times and have never seen one. The trail splits after the sign. Continue on straight.
Continue following the path passed the cave, stairs, big rocks, small bridges and multiple sets of stairs. Most of the time you’ll be accompanied by the beautiful sound of the rushing stream which would be following you for a better part of the trail and by the gorgeous views of the little waterfalls along the way. The best is yet to come though. A large waterfall will greet you right at the top of a set of stairs. The first of a few.
The hard part of the trail begins after the first large waterfall. Flight and flights of stairs stand before you and the High Shoals Falls that at times feel vertical. And although there are a lot of places for some rest that can be found along the way you’ll still feel the burn. Little benches and rocks are situated by the path for convenience and once you reach the falls it would all be worth it.
The massive 80-foot waterfall stands tall before you and the large platform at the bottom of it brings you so close almost giving you the feel as if you can reach your hand and touch it. At times the water comes down raging leaving you wet and refreshed on a hot summer day. During falls months the yellow, orange and red leaves hugging the rushing falls create a picture perfect setting ideal for all waterfall loving photographers.
Unfortunately the stairs don’t stop here. Again although strenuous and grueling the trail is hiding one more surprise for you and you wont be disappointed. After you’ve taken in all the beauty of the High Shoals Falls and rested a little continue up the stairs to what would be the third and last Falls here.
Across the bridge you’ll find a picnic bench. We always eat our snack or food here right by the waterfall and let the kids play under the large trees for several minutes before heading back to the parking lot. The trail back is pretty much downhill after the initial few hills you climb but nothing at all like what you just did on the other side.
Once back at the bottom of the mountain make sure to take the little detour and explore the Hemlock Trail. It is our kids favorite as it tells you in great details all about the animals, fish and plants that can be found at South Mountain and is our favorite as they learn something new every time and come out of the hike not only full of excitement but also with new information.
If you have time, we suggest stopping off at nearby Woodmill Winery on the way back. The Vineyard and Winery is family owned and specializes in Muscadine Wine.