This jewel of a state park in the foothills is the great place to enjoy nature. It's located near Morganton in Burke County, about 70 miles east of Asheville (just 18 miles from I-40). The park includes elevations up to 3,000 feet, a waterfall dropping 60 feet and more than 40 miles of trails. From equestrian camping to trout fishing, mountain biking to picnicking, you will love the great outdoors at one of the state's most rugged parks.
Hike the trail to High Shoals Falls with boardwalks above rushing waters. Backpack through the woodlands for primitive camping. Fish for trout in miles of mountain streams. Bicycle along the 17-mile mountain bike loop. Walk along the park's numerous streams and enjoy a variety of beautiful wildflowers, including Jack-in-the-pulpit, lady slipper and foam flowers. More than 60 species of birds are known to nest at South Mountains.
Park Reopens January 1, 2017
After being closed for many weeks due to the big wildfire that burned 6,400 acres, the park reopened on New Year's Day! All buildings were saved. The fire started November 6. Rangers are busy removing hazards and returning the landscape to its natural state. Fourteen trails (27.3 miles, nearly 60 percent of the park’s trail system) were affected by the wildfire to varying degrees. Chestnut Knob trail and Shinny trail will be closed until further notice. The High Shoals Falls Trail was not damaged.
High Shoals Falls
Best hike! This 2.7-mile hike is one of the most beautiful trails you will find in our mountains (photo at top of page)! It's one mile to the 60-foot tall High Shoals waterfall. Hike along the cascading river and walk on boardwalks by other beautiful cascades on the way. The first 3/4 of a mile to the boardwalks is fairly easy. The last section near the waterfall is strenuous with many steps to the observation deck. Read more about High Shoals Falls.
Peak fall color in the South Mountains is late October and early November.
Hemlock Nature Trail is an easy, 3/4-mile wheelchair-accessible loop along the Jacob Fork River and through a forest. Eleven display areas along the trail explain the riparian environment of South Mountains State Park and describe its plants and animals.
Chestnut Knob Trail is a steep wooded trail (climbs 900 feet in elevation) with views of High Shoals Falls and extraordinary mountain views. The trailhead is in the Jacob Fork Parking area. The first half mile of the trail is the most strenuous section. Stop at Jacob Fork River Gorge overlook to rest a bit before you continue to the Chestnut Knob Overlook. Four miles roundtrip. Maps available at the Ranger Station.
The park has many miles of streams where an angler can cast a line. Most of the streams are classified as wild trout water while approximately two miles are classified as delayed harvest trout water.
This is one of the few parks in the state parks system offering mountain bicyclists the chance to ride through the park. The 17-mile loop trail is strenuous, so you should be in good shape before attempting it.
Twenty backpack camping sites are offered in six areas of the park. These sites are designated on the park map, and hiking distances to each backpack camping site vary. Each camping area has a pit toilet located nearby. All supplies, including water, must be packed to the sites. Drive-to family camping is available a half mile east of the Jacob Fork parking area. Eighteen campsites include a picnic table and fire circle, and one site is wheelchair accessible. Bathhouse with hot showers and drinking water are located nearby. If you do not have a reservation, stop by the park office for availability.
The Jacob's Fork picnic area is accessible for persons with disabilities and includes 10 tables, two grills and a restroom.
There are 29 miles of equestrian trails at South Mountains State Park. Ride horseback on the Dogwood Trail past Benn Knob, the second highest peak in the park at an elevation of 2,894 feet. The trailhead is located at the west end of the horse trailer parking area on Turkey Ridge Trail. All visitors with horses must be able to provide proof of a negative equine infectious anemia (Coggins) test while visiting North Carolina State Parks. The equestrian camping area adjacent to the horse trailer parking area consists of 15 campsites, a 33-stall barn and a washhouse with hot showers and flush toilets.
Watch our Video: High Shoals Falls
Go to the Burke County Web site for more attractions and great places to stay. After your hike, go to Morganton for lunch or dinner. And hike or relax by the water at Lake James State Park.
- December - February, 7 AM-7 PM
- March, April, October 7 AM-9 PM
- May - September, 7 AM- 10 PM
- November 7 AM-8 PM
- Closed Christmas Day
Park Office Hours
8 AM-5 PM every day. Closed Christmas Day. Phone: 828-433-4772
South Mountains State Park is located in Burke County, 20.5 miles south of Morganton. From I-40, turn south on NC 18, travel 11.1 miles and make a right turn onto SR 1913 (Sugarloaf Road). Take SR 1913 to Old NC 18 4.3 miles and turn left. Travel 2.7 miles and make a right turn onto SR 1901 (Ward's Gap Road). The park is 1.4 miles off SR 1901 on SR 1904 (South Mountains Park Avenue). Travel one mile from the beginning of South Mountain Park Avenue to the South Mountains State Park gate. ADDRESS: 3001 S Mountain Park, Connelly Springs, NC 28612