Synopsis: Strenuous hike through boulder fields to the summits of Little Mountain and Crowders Mountain in Crowders Mountain State Park, NC.
Total Mileage: 6mi round-trip according to the sign, but I added another 2mi for a total of 8 miles.
Blaze Color: Red (Rocktop); White (Crowders Trail); Blue (Tower Trail); Orange (Backside Trail)
Hike Rating: Very Strenuous/Technical
The Trailhead: Park at the Sparrow Springs Access area. Follow the Crowders Mountain Trail to the sign and bear right. Be careful as you’ll have to cross busy NC 161. After a short hike, you’ll see another sign indicating the trail splits. Bear right and this becomes the Rocktop Trail.
The Hike: Your introduction to the Rocktop Trail is the sight of a huge boulder field you’re about to traverse. Not only will you begin a steep ascent, you will also have to climb over boulders. There is the option of working your way around the boulders, but what fun is that? Follow the red blazes up and through the field. I could imagine a novice hiker losing the trail immediately in this area because he’ll be asking himself, “Where’s the trail?” – the boulders ARE the trail.
Once this portion of the climb is over, and after reaching a relatively level area, you’ll be greeted with great views to the right.
It won’t take long to realize you’re on a “knife’s edge” ridge line – a narrow, rocky stretch of exposed rock. In places there are steep cliffs on either side of the narrow trail. Use caution.
Several times throughout this hike, you’ll have to climb over boulders to keep the trail. I noticed some had went around the boulders, but following these side trails will take you even closer to the cliff’s edge.
Toward the end of the hike, you’ll reach the “summit”, a large, flat area of exposed rock. There are good views on either side. This is a good spot to rest. The remainder of the trail is relatively level.
I enjoyed the solitude of the Rocktop Trail. I only passed one other group of three hikers about halfway up, and they were thinking of turning back. Yes, this trail can be that tough.
At the trail’s terminus, you’ll come to a gravel road. Continue straight ahead. This becomes the Tower/Crowders Trail. It leads to the broadcasting tower of WSOC-TV. You’ll know you’re at Crowders Mountain because this is a very popular destination in the park. It was almost shocking that I’d spent the last couple of hours huffing and puffing up and over boulders in solitude, only to be greeted with a crowd up ahead.
I avoided the crowds by going off trail to the right. There is a manway here that leads to the summit of Little Mountain. You’ll have to negotiate briars and thorns, as well as more jagged boulders. The summit is wooded but narrow, so use extreme caution.
I found a nice spot here on the cliff’s edge, took of my shoes, and enjoyed a quiet lunch and tremendous views. I could see Charlotte, NC clearly.
After eating and resting, I started back toward Crowders Mountain and took the Backside Trail at the base of the Crowders Mountain overlook. The trail offers more great views and a towering, vertical cliff above you. From here the trail climbs up through more boulders, then winds left to the summit of Crowders Mountain.
It will not escape you at just how ignorant people can be. The area below the Crowders overlook was littered with water bottles and trash. I noticed water bottles and food containers throughout my hike. Please, pack out whatever you pack in!
After dodging the crowds, you have the option of taking the Crowders Trail back to the parking area, or you can retrace your steps on the Rock Top Trail. I chose to retrace my steps.
Overall, I loved this hike. It is a technical hike, meaning there are challenges above and beyond a normal walk in the woods.
See you on the trail!