By Laura Simon

For the first time visitor, Hanging Rock State Park can feel a little overwhelming. Set on nearly 8,000 acres in beautiful Stokes County, this local gem offers so many options that it’s hard to know where to start! That said, it’s our family’s favorite outdoor destination, and we’ve visited enough to develop some favorite spots. I’d love to share them with you!

Short and Sweet: If you’re hiking with little legs – or out-of-shape legs – the trails leading to Hidden Falls and Window Falls offer a beautiful payoff without too much strain. The two trails connect (Hidden Falls starts when you get to Window Falls), and the total one-way trip is right around a mile. Adventurous hikers can crawl out to the rock and look through the “window” to see the falls behind it, but the view is great regardless. When you get down to Hidden Falls, you can carefully climb out and stand under the waterfalls. For my seven-year-old, this amounts to the only shower he’ll willingly take. These aren’t rushing waterfalls, so littles can safely explore. That said, definitely pay attention to the park guidelines for water safety and use your discretion. This trailhead starts at the visitor’s center parking lot, and it’s worth mentioning that you should plan on some steps.

Getting Wet: While the obvious way to swim is the beach at Hanging Rock Lake, another way to get wet is the Lower Cascade Falls. This gorgeous waterfall ends in a pool that’s very suitable for wading. Depending on rainfall, the pool is around 2-3 feet deep. The bottom is rocky, so water shoes are a great idea. So are puddle jumpers for beginning swimmers. To access the Lower Cascades trail, you’ll have to drive out of the main part of the park (a Google search will get you there). The first part of the trail is relatively flat, but the second half involves quite a few steps. It’s four tenths of a mile one way, and the steps have railings, making it another great option for little kids.

The Hanging Rock: At 1.3 miles one-way, this one sounds easier than it is. The views at the top are worth it, but the trails are rocky and steep at times. We did this one with a toddler in a carrier and two little boys that I immediately wished were wearing some kind of tether. It’s doable with kids, but I’d recommend packing snacks, making sure everyone wears shoes with good traction, and taking appropriate safety precautions.

Moore’s Wall Loop: This is a favorite of ours, as the views from the old fire tower at the top are spectacular. You can see all the way to Greensboro – and some people say Charlotte – on a clear day. You can also see all the major peaks in the Blue Ridge. This is strenuous hiking – and the loop is a total of 4.7 miles, so plan accordingly. We hiked it this past fall with 8, 6, and 4-year-olds, and my 70-year-old mother, who may not have realized exactly what she was getting into. Sorry, mom. We did pack snacks and water (essential), and we stopped to rest in the campground halfway up. The campground offers bathrooms, as does the beach shelter at the bottom of the trail. To access the trail, park at the Lake and look for the red markers.

The Straight Crazy: Unless your children are extremely strong and not prone to whining, I wouldn’t recommend doing the Five Peaks Trail with them, but it does make for a fun and sweaty day date. Ten strenuous miles will take you to all five of the peaks in the park. It’s rocky and steep, but the views were incredible.

In addition to hiking, Hanging Rock lake features fishing, boating, and a swimming beach (for a fee, during summer months). You can camp in the park, and you’ll have plenty to keep you busy during your time there. The Visitor’s Center is a lovely facility with clean bathrooms and exhibits related to the park.

If you want to leave the park to eat, Artist’s Way Creations is a Danbury, NC café featuring food, coffee and dessert. Be sure to check the hours before you visit. If you’re willing to drive a little further, the town of King offers a variety of food options, both local and chain.

Hanging Rock is beautiful all year long, and I can almost guarantee that your first visit won’t be your last.

For another perspective on Hanging Rock, visit Rachel’s blog from a few years ago HERE.

Click HERE to see more day trip ideas!

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