Hanging Rock State Park, less than an hour from Greensboro and Winston-Salem, has some of the finest and most accessible hiking in North Carolina. The ancient Sauratown Mountains lie east of the Blue Ridge escarpment and although not high by normal standards, rise more than 1,000 feet above the rolling hills of the Piedmont. Eroded white quartzite cliffs are the defining feature of the park.
This hike will take you on the grand tour of all of the vistas in the state park, including the namesake Hanging Rock and Moore’s Knob, the tallest peak in the Sauratown Mountains at 2,579 feet. You’ll also get outstanding views from Wolf Rock, House Rock, Cook’s Wall, and Hanging Rock Lake on this moderate hike that is easier than the distance suggests.
From Danbury follow NC-89 and NC-8 north to Hanging Rock Park Rd. You can park at either the visitor center or the upper parking lot at Hanging Rock Lake. The hike begins at the visitor center and goes clockwise to Hanging Rock first because this section can get quite crowded on weekend afternoons. If you want optimal photographic conditions and like to get the hardest climb out of the way, head counterclockwise to start with Moore’s Knob.
Mile 0.0 – Hike begins at the visitor center parking lot. The Hanging Rock Trail (orange circle blaze) begins on the far left side. The trail is initially paved before transitioning to gravel. This is one of the most popular trails in the park.
Mile 0.6 – Junction with the Wolf Rock Trail(blue triangle blaze). Continue left on the Hanging Rock Trail for 0.7-mi to Hanging Rock. The trail climbs under the prominent summit on many stairs. Eventually the trail reaches the ridge and turns left towards the peak.
Mile 1.3 – Reach the summit of Hanging Rock, a huge series of rock outcrops jutting out on the west side of the mountain. From here you can see the visitor center far below. Moore’s Knob and Cook’s Wall Mountain are the prominent peaks directly west. You will also have great views north of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, and the flatlands to the south. On clear days you can see in the south the downtown buildings of Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Along Hanging Rock there are many cliffs to explore. Be careful because a fall would be fatal. Turn around and head back to the junction with the Wolf Rock Trail.
Mile 2.1 – Go left on the Wolf Rock Trail (blue triangle blaze). The trail changes to a narrow dirt path and receives much less foot traffic.
Mile 2.9 – Reach Wolf Rock, a giant rock outcrop on the south side of the ridge connecting Hanging Rock Mountain and Cook’s Wall Mountain. The primary view is south of the Piedmont and you can also spy House Rock along the Cook’s Wall Trail.
Mile 3.2 – The Wolf Rock Trail ends at a junction with the Cook’s Wall Trail at Wolf Gap. Continue straight on the Cook’s Wall Trail (white diamond blaze).
Mile 3.6 – Junction with the Magnolia Springs Trail(blue square blaze). Continue straight on the Cook’s Wall Trail for 1 mile to the trail terminus.
Mile 6.2 – Cross over East Fork Cascade Creek on 2 small bridges then reach the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. Turn left on the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail (red circle blaze) heading west on a moderate ascent to Huckleberry Gap.
Mile 6.7 – Junction with the Tory’s Den Trail (blue circle blaze) and Mountains-to-Sea Trail (white circle blaze) near Huckleberry Gap. Turn right heading north along the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail/Mountains-to-Sea Trail (red circle and white circle blazes). The trail begins a steep 1.2-mile ascent up Huckleberry Ridge over a minor summit before dropping into a gap and ascending Moore’s Knob. This is the steepest and longest climb of the hike. Once on Huckleberry Ridge you will have views through the trees and pass by multiple large boulders and stands of Catawba rhododendron which bloom mid-May.
Mile 7.9 – Reach the spur trails to Balanced Rock and Moore’s Knob observation tower. Moore’s Knob is the tallest peak in the Sauratown Mountains at 2,579 feet and features a huge, exposed cliff on the northwest side. The original fire tower has been refurbished as a lookout tower. Climb the stairs to get 360° views. You can trace most of the hike from east to south with the visitor center, Hanging Rock, Cook’s Wall Mountain and Huckleberry Ridge all clearly visible. Pilot Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains dominate the western and northern vistas. Continue following the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail south down the mountain. This section of the trail gets more foot traffic since it is a shorter distance from the parking areas. The descent is mostly on a wide gravel and dirt path with hundreds of steps.
Mile 9.7 – Pass by the boat house at the lake. Take a left on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (white circle blaze) avoiding the sidewalk to the picnic areas and upper parking lot on the right.
Mile 9.8 – Stop at a fishing pier in Hanging Rock Lake with great views of Cook’s Wall and Moore’s Knob rising above the water.
Mile 9.9 – The Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses the road on its way to the visitor center.
Mile 10.1 – Hike ends at the visitor center parking lot.
Five Peaks Loop Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Sunday, January 7, 2018
I decided to do a quick 4.5-mile detour in the middle of my frozen waterfall day and hike the Moore's Wall Loop Trail, which is approximately 40% of this full hike. The skies were too blue to pass up some views, despite the brutally cold weather. I took the trail west from Hanging Rock Lake, which follows the Five Peaks Loop listed here after the Magnolia Springs Trail junction. I had to shed my jacket and hat on the climb up Huckleberry Ridge, it is a consistent gradient that will make you work. At 25F I was in a shirt and pullover fleece and feeling fine. When I reached the tower I was the only one there for 30 minutes, while hundreds of people were exploring the waterfalls. The views from the lookout tower were outstanding as always, I think I'll write this up as a alternative, shorter hike to the Five Peaks Loop. Not everyone can do 10 miles. On my way down I took the trail around the lake which adds a little distance but is worth it. Overall I saw less than 20 people on this loop in 3 hours, it is one of the less crowded areas of the park.
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 30, 2016
Did the hike yesterday exactly as described here. Nice sunny day, unusually warm for this time of the year. Leaves aren't getting much of the color this year, but there is still some nice foliage to see along the way. All trails are well marked- you can do the whole hike without looking at the map once. My favorite views on this hike are along the Wolf Rock/Cook's Wall side. One also gets full 360 panorama from Moore's Knob. Trail to Hanging Rock gets very crowded on the weekends- try to hit it first and do it before 9 am if possible.
Date of Hike: Friday, August 30, 2013
On Friday, 8/30/13, We hiked the Moore's Wall trail to Moore's Knob and the viewing tower. It was a wonderful hike. We parked in the Bathhouse parking lot, walked past the Bathhouse and lake on our right, following the trail till it split. We chose to turn left which took us up the less refined trail to Moore's Knob and the tower - excellent views. The remainder of the trail was wide and refined with steps. Along the way we stopped at balancing-rock and other out looks, returning via the camp grounds to the Bathhouse. Due to a staffing shortage, the Bathhouse and lake was closed. Scheduled to open for the three day Labor Day weekend, however. Due to the staffing shortage, there was no one to tell us not to climb over the fence and swim, so we did. We had the lake to ourselves. The water was wonderful. As we left, another hiker was climbing over the fence. During our six hours in the park, we saw maybe eight other people. I can't wait to go back. We'll hike Peaks of Otter 9/14-15/2013.
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 4, 2012
We hiked this same loop from the other direction and turned back at House Rock on the Cook's Wall Trail. This is perhaps the most incredible hike of my limited hiking experience. We loved all the climbable rocks. Unfortunately, we hiked it on a cold rainy day, so most of the day, we had a really nice view of the clouds. We're going back in March to hike it in the direction listed here. I can't wait!
My trip report is HERE.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 25, 2010
This hike basically starts with picking up Moore's Loop Trail at the bottom of all those stairs, with a tricky .05 mile or so getting there from the visitors parking lot. I say it is trickey because there are a couple of trail heads right from the visitors parking lot and intuition would dictate that the hike started from one of these. However, in this case you exit the parking lot towards the lake and pick up from there. Once I fought my intuition and figured that out, the hike directions were pretty simple to follow.
I like that this hike tackles Moore's Loop trail from the steep side first. I prefer to get the elevation climb out of the way first while my legs are fresh, and then recover on the more gradual decent. Although once you get to the tower on Moore's Loop, you will have plenty of time to rest while taking in all the great views. From here you will also have a photo opportunity sitting (standing if you are brave) on Balanced Rock. I should also point out that this hike should be done on a clear day. You can do plenty of other forest hikes on a foggy day.
Once you start your decent from the tower the rest of the hike is a cake walk, but that doesen't mean the great views are over. On this day I enjoyed the views and ate my lunch sitting on Wolf Rock, where I even managed to get a cell phone signal and call my couch potato friends. And it only makes sense to complete the day enjoying the scenery from the aptly named Hanging Rock.
All and all a great hike, but I strongly recommend doing it on a clear day.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Being from the coastal lowlands of Ludowici, Georgia, Hanging Rock was my second time hiking(Pilot Mt. was the first) and I loved every minute of the huffing, puffing, stopping to rest, journey to the top to see the view from the rock and have a pic of that scary moment when I crawled(scared of heights) out onto the ledge to have my pic taken with my husband.  Hanging Rock was the first trail we hiked followed by Hidden Falls/Window Falls.  We wanted to stay all day and hike as many trails as we could but we had our three chihuahuas back at the hotel in Mt. Pilot and our bodies just could not move anymore.  We barely had enough energy to walk the dogs and grab a bite of food before crashing for the night.  The next day the sore muscles made walking downtown Mt. Airy quite challenging before we explored a little of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But we were determined to make the most of this rare vacation time and even hiked some trails along the Parkway on the way back home.  Hanging Rock State Park deserves an entire day devoted to exploration to fully enjoy its beauty and wonder.  Next time around, I will be better prepared.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Being from the coastal lowlands of Ludowici, Georgia, Hanging Rock was my second time hiking(Pilot Mt. was the first) and I loved every minute of the huffing, puffing, stopping to rest, journey to the top to see the view from the rock and have a pic of that scary moment when I crawled(scared of heights) out onto the ledge to have my pic taken with my husband. Hanging Rock was the first trail we hiked followed by Hidden Falls/Window Falls. We wanted to stay all day and hike as many trails as we could but we had our three chihuahuas back at the hotel in Mt. Pilot and our bodies just could not move anymore. We barely had enough energy to walk the dogs and grab a bite of food before crashing for the night. The next day the sore muscles made walking downtown Mt. Airy quite challenging before we explored a little of the Blue Ridge Parkway. But we were determined to make the most of this rare vacation time and even hiked some trails along the Parkway on the way back home. Hanging Rock State Park deserves an entire day devoted to exploration to fully enjoy its beauty and wonder. Next time around, I will be better prepared.