South Mountains State Park is located along the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here is the Google map to get oriented.
The park has an extensive network of hiking trails. We chose two for our day hike experience. The first was Chestnut Knob Trail. This trail is 2.1 miles long (one-way) making for a 4.2 mile roundtrip. The trail climbs through forest which was devastated by a human-caused fire in November, 2016. We did not expect to find this, and it was a sad and sobering reminder of the need for everyone to be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of their actions.
Near the top, there is a slight amount of scrambling over rocks to reach the “knob.”
Once at the top, you can rest and take in the panoramic views.
Some trees in this section of the park escaped the fire, and on the way down we enjoyed seeing dogwoods in bloom.
Our second hike of the day was on the High Shoal Falls Loop Trail, which is 2.7 miles roundtrip. The same parking area serves both trails, so we did not even have to move our car. Although directly adjacent to the section of the park that was fire-damaged, this section of the park was not affected. It felt like we had entered an entirely new world. Black and brown tones were replaced by green, green, and more green.
The trail follows the Jacob Fork River for the first mile.
At the top is High Shoal Falls, an 80-foot cascade and a real visual treat after a strenuous uphill climb that includes more than 400 wooden and rock steps.
Wildflowers were in bloom on the forest floor.
And early-blooming rhododendrons added to the beauty of the lush undergrowth.
But what goes up must come down (at least on a loop trail!), so we continued around the mountain and down to the trailhead. Turning around and looking back up the trail gives some sense of the incline, which is gentler than the first half of the loop.
An important note if you plan to hike this trail: we hiked the loop in a clockwise direction, which is recommended because the steps along the river can be slippery and are most safely navigated going up them rather than down.
With that, we called it a day and headed home. We hope you enjoyed the day as much as we did!