Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, 625 Virginia Cates Road in Hillsborough, is an ideal destination for hiking because it provides a sweeping vista without a hard climb or a long walk. From the parking area, it’s just over a mile to walk to the summit (if you go the most direct route from the parking lot), and the elevation gain is gradual.
The walk to the overlook is fun and easy for kids. The change in elevation from the lowest point, at the Eno, to the summit, is 350 feet.
This is a small park that packs a lot into just 190 acres. It’s the highest point between Hillsborough and the Atlantic Ocean.
Eno River State Park is another close-by park to explore.
Read on for more information about the hike!
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area includes about three miles of trails, from which you can explore forests, walk along the Eno River, or enjoy the view from the overlook. There is much to enjoy in every season. In the spring, especially, enjoy the Rhododendrons.
Other activities at Occoneechee include fishing and picnicking. Fishing is permitted in the two ponds and in the Eno River. Fish for largemouth bass, bluegill, redbreast sunfish, and Roanoke (red-eye) bass.
There is a primitive restroom next to the parking lot.
The easiest way to reach the overlook is to walk along the Chestnut Oak Trail, which you can access from the parking lot. The .9 mile long trail leads you to the Overlook Trail. In combination, the walk from the parking lot to the scenic overlook is about 1.05 each way. (Alternately, take the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail around the park.)
From the part of the park closest to I-85, you can hear quite a bit of traffic noise, so keep this is mind if you’re looking for a hike with no sound other than birds chirping. On the other side of the park it’s very quiet, though.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area can get crowded on the weekends, so make sure to get there early if you’re going on a Saturday or Sunday.
You can extend your hike on these trails:
- Brown Elfin Knob Trail: .10 miles. Takes you through a mature oak forest, a Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron thicket, and to high scenic view.
- Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail: 2.20 miles. This trail takes you along steep terrain over the Eno River. This is the main trail of the park, and includes some stairs up from the banks of the Eno River.