If you’ve been on Facebook for more than a minute and happen to live in the Charlotte area, you’ve no doubt seen a selfie or two posted by “friends” who’ve hiked to the top of The Pinnacle at Crowders Mountain State Park. After living here for more than 16 years, I finally decided it was time to make the ascent. With my college buddy, John, in town for his annual visit, I had just the incentive.
We set out early to avoid the mid-90s July heat.
Located 30 miles west of Charlotte, Crowders Mountain State Park is part of the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. It covers more than 5,100 acres in Gaston County.
Although the park boasts numerous amenities – including campgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, canoe rentals and fishing – it is best known for two rocky outcrops that tower above the surrounding Piedmont. At 1,705 feet above sea level, The Pinnacle is taller of the two. Crowders Mountain is slightly lower at 1,625 feet.
The Pinnacle is the most popular among hikers. From the visitor center (elevation 800 feet) to the peak is 2.2 miles. We had been told to expect a 45-minute climb.
We set out about 7:30 a.m. and hiked through dense pine forest for maybe the first mile. That’s when things became a bit more challenging. As the trail grew steeper, the vegetation began to thin out and our breathing grew increasingly more labored. The final quarter-mile or so felt, at times, as if we were climbing straight up.
The view from the top was spectacular. From the eastern side we could see the the Charlotte skyline 30 miles in the distance, with the Duke Energy building’s distinctive modern design visible. From the western side, which features a horrifying vertical drop, we could see the small town of Kings Mountain and the surrounding farmland.
As beautiful as the scenery may be, traversing the summit must not be taken lightly. In September 2015, a 48-year-old woman fell 150 feet to her death after reaching the summit. She had hiked to the top with her husband and one of three daughters. She was the 14th person to fall to her death at a state park over the previous 10 years, not including suicides, the Charlotte Observer reported.
In February, a 23-year-old man was seriously injured after he fell 30 feet while taking a photo with friends. A park official said most of the accidents happen when people venture too close to the mountain’s edge.
Overall, the experience was much harder than I imagined it would be. At home, I routinely walk 4.5 miles at a brisk pace to stay in shape and reduce stress. Hiking to the top of The Pinnacle was infinitely harder.
If you go, here are some things to remember:
• Wear hiking boots or sneakers. Don’t even consider attempting the hike in street shoes.
• Take plenty of water. You’ll thank yourself somewhere around the 2-mile mark. (And remember, it’s another 2.2 miles walking back down.)
• Enjoy the view from the top, but stay away from the rocky ledges. No selfie is worth your life.
• The park has a number of trails that lead toward the summit. Take a different trail on the way back down to see the park from a different perspective.
• Expect to spend at least two hours round-trip, including time spent taking in the mountaintop view.
• Be sure to drop by the visitor center to learn more about the park and its plants and wildlife. You can also buy some cold water and a snack (cash only for food).
• Arrive early on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Parking is limited, and parking lots can fill up fast.
• If you can, spend some time canoeing or fishing. There’s also a picnic area with covered shelters, so make a day of it.
Crowders Mountain State Park is open every day except Christmas. As of May 30, it had seen more than 300,000 visitor, a park official said. A park employee warned me winter is the busiest season.
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