The weekend of the Porziņģis game in Charlotte was the weekend of the giant snowstorm here in the Upstate. School was cancelled Friday and Monday, and about three inches on the ground ensured the boys got their fill of snowball (iceball) fights, sled rides, snow pants, boots and wet gloves on Friday and Saturday morning. By noon Saturday the highways and all the roads in our neighborhood were clear (more due to the high temperatures and sunshine than any action on the part of SCDOT) and we were on our way. It wasn’t until Sunday that we encountered any snow-related hiccups in our plans; the majority of places we had considered stopping on our way home (to stretch our legs and take a short hike) were closed due to icy conditions. Although the highways were clear, small roads were hazardous as neither of the Carolinas is well-equipped to deal with snow and ice.
Right on the border between North and South Carolina and a little less than halfway between Charlotte and home is Kings Mountain National Military Park. If you know this stretch of I85 than you know it’s rather flat: however, right there around Kings Mountain you’ll suddenly find some terrain, some mountains. Having seen pictures of some incredible views taken from these peaks, I had looked into visiting the neighboring state park – Crowders Mountain.
Two peaks, the Pinnacle and Crowders Mountain, are linked with Kings Mountain SP and Kings Mountain NMP with miles of challenging trails. We had not planned on summiting either of the two, but had hoped for some scenic views. After discovering that Crowders Mountain has a Track Trail leading around the 9-acre lake we decided on that one – until we saw on their website that the park had been closed until further notice.
Fortuitously Crowders Mountain State Park had cleared the parking lot to Sparrow Springs Access, and although the park office and majority of trails were closed, the Fern and Lake Trails were open to hikers; all this was patiently explained to me when I called to inquire about the closure. Just a short distance from the interstate we could see the peaks, and soon we were pulling into the Sparrow Springs visitor center parking lot.
We suited up in our snow pants, boots and waterproof gloves and set off on the Track Trail. Utilizing Turnback Trail, Fern Trail, and Lake Trail, the loop totals 2.1 miles and took us through the woods that would have been filled with ferns and wildflowers in a different season. We emerged from forest to a beautiful view of the lake.
The park was created in 1973 but did not open to the public until 1974, and it wasn’t until 1978 that the summit of Crowders Mountain was incorporated into the park. The goal was to protect the area from mining, the devastating effects of which can be seen on what’s left of Henry’s Knob in SC a little to the south. Ten years later the Pinnacle was acquired, and in 2000 an additional 2,000 acres were purchased connecting the park to Kings Mountain.
In addition to hiking, there are dozens of other activities that can be enjoyed at the park, such as camping, rock climbing, fishing and water sports along with educational and interpretive programs offered by the park rangers. Of course that’s when they’re not snowed in. We found the trails and roads that were open to the public to be perfectly safe, but the half of the parking lot that hadn’t been cleared and was cordoned off to traffic was a skating rink, providing much entertainment for the boys. I can only imagine what the ridge and cliff trails look like after a winter storm! Luckily we were content with our lake hike, especially as the snow and semi-frozen lake offered a completely different dimension to the excursion.
Within easy driving distance from Greenville, Spartanburg and Charlotte, this NC State Park is definitely worth the trip. We’re putting in a conscious effort to return a different time of year with the goal of climbing one of the peaks; not only will the scenery be completely different, I believe the views of the Piedmont will be a suitable reward.