Joyful Journey: Pilot Mountain State Park

Welcome, LKN readers, as we journey this month to the Triad region of North Carolina. Located in Surry and Yadkin counties, Pilot Mountain State Park rises majestically 1,400 feet above the valley floor of the gently rolling NC hills. The Native Americans called it “Jomeokee,” meaning “great guide” or “pilot.” 

A visit to Pilot Mountain State Park is a journey through the rich geological and cultural history of the Piedmont Triad. The park is known for its Big Pinnacle, a monadnock and the westernmost peak of the Sauratown Mountains, that can be seen from all directions in the park. Pilot Mountain has guided centuries of travelers, from nomadic Native American tribes seeking food and shelter along the Yadkin River to Moravian immigrants establishing a new home in the Carolina backcountry.

An interesting side note is that Pilot Mountain was the likely inspiration for “Mount Pilot” in Andy Griffith’s television show. Griffith was born in the nearby town of Mount Airy, which was the model for the small town of Mayberry in the popular long-running show.

Brief History

“History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard. It is a poem with events as verses.”  Charles Angoff

Pilot Mountain is known to geologists as a quartzite monadnock, a lone survivor of the erosion of millions of years that wore the surrounding peaks of the ancient Sauratown Mountains down to flat lands. Pilot Mountain is capped by two prominent pinnacles from which visitors can see across hundreds of miles of the Piedmont Triad and to the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.

According to the state park’s website, the mountain was mapped in 1751 by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, father of President Thomas Jefferson. Pilot Mountain became North Carolina’s 14th state park in 1968, due in large part to the efforts of a group of local citizens. Prior to that time, the mountain was a commercial tourist attraction, not unlike a part of Grandfather Mountain, that achieved non-profit status in 2009. Although, Grandfather’s owner, Hugh Morton, had a stewarding nature and worked to maintain the conservancy of the land. 

The Pilot Mountain Preservation and Park Committee proposed the establishment of Pilot Mountain as a state park in order to protect it and the surrounding area from further commercial development. Working with the conservation-minded owner of the property, Mrs. J.W. Beasley, the group secured options on the land and raised matching funds that made it possible to purchase the land with federal grants. In further support of the park, the committee acquired more than 1,000 acres of land along the Yadkin River that was added to the park in 1970. Additional acreage was later acquired, bringing the park to its present size of 3,703 acres. Today, Pilot Mountain stands as a monument to the desire and concern of citizens dedicated to preserving the natural resources of North Carolina.

Recreation

“Enjoy wholesome recreation to reduce stress.” – Brent A. Barlow

Inviting outdoor enthusiasts to a vast array of activities, Stone Mountain State Park offers everything from hiking and horseback riding to rock climbing and camping, with accesses on both the rugged terrain of the mountains and the Yadkin River. The NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail also traverses both park sections. 

A seven-mile woodland corridor joins two sections of the Pilot Mountain State Park, each section offering a variety of opportunities for outdoor fun. The mountain segment, which includes the two pinnacles, contains most of the visitor facilities. If you hike the 3-mile Grindstone Trail to Little Pinnacle Overlook, you get a close-up, eye-level view of Pilot’s knob. The more primitive river section centers around the meandering Yadkin River, which I will talk about more in the Unique Features section below. 

Rock climbing and rappelling are favorite activities at Pilot Mountain for experienced climbers. Climbing is permitted only in designated areas. Climbers must register with the park by obtaining a permit at the park office.

Activities at the mountain section

  • Hiking (14 miles)
  • Picnicking
  • Rock climbing

Activities at the river section

  • Hiking (14 miles)
  • Horseback riding (9 miles)
  • Paddling
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking

Amenities at the mountain section

  • Picnic shelter (non-reservable)
  • Visitor center and exhibits

Amenities at the river section

  • Horse trailer parking (at Pinnacle Hotel Road/Culler Road parking area and at Hauser Road parking area)

Camping at the mountain section

  • Tent sites
  • Trailer and RV sites (no hookups)
  • Showers
  • Firewood

Camping at the river section

  • Tent sites (paddle-in)

Unique Features

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Chief Seattle

A hidden gem for hiking, paddling, horseback riding and camping is the Yadkin River Section of Pilot Mountain State Park. This often-overlooked section is about 20 minutes south of the main park, tucked away in a secluded area where shoals and small islands dot the Yadkin River. It is connected to the main park by a 6.6-mile stretch of the Corridor Trail. In this secluded section of the park are several hiking trails, including the Horne Creek Trail, Ivy Bluff Trail, Yadkin Islands Trail, Yadkin River Park Trail and the Bean Shoals Canal Trail.

In the early 1800s, the Yadkin Navigation Company attempted to construct a 3-mile canal around Bean Shoals to allow shipping vessels on the Yadkin River to bypass the rocky shoals. Massive stone retaining walls are still visible that line the riverbank here, yet the company mysteriously abandoned the project in 1825. This was also the site of the Shoals Ferry and a railroad depot, making the river crossing a hub of commerce in the late 1800s. 

Explore the park’s 2.5-mile riverfront by canoe or kayak along the Yadkin River Canoe Trail. The park riverfront is one of the most scenic sections along the 165-mile trail which follows the course of the river, passing through five reservoirs to the confluence of the Yadkin and Uwharrie rivers and is part of the Mountains-to-Sea trail.

Other features of this river section of the state park include a paddle-in campsite, fishing island, picnic area and kayak/canoe launch, although the park does not offer rentals. Anglers can reel in sunfish, crappie, and catfish, but will need a state fishing license and must obey the regulations of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

Adjacent to the park sits the 113-acre Horne Creek Farm, a living historical site maintained by the state of North Carolina that’s like stepping back to 1910 when family farms dominated the landscape. The site features the family’s original farm house, a tobacco curing barn, a corn crib, adjacent fields under cultivation, and even a heritage apple orchard. Through programs ranging from old fashioned ice cream socials to an annual corn shucking event, Horne Creek Living Historical Farm provides a unique opportunity to learn about our rural past. Admission is free.

At the End of the Day

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

I hope this article inspires you to take a trip to Pilot Mountain State Park and take advantage of the beauty, amenities, and activities available at this unique rural state park. I always enjoy my visits to Pilot Mountain State Park, because the awesome views, meandering trails, and the additional Yadkin river section keep me going back again and again. 

Pilot Mountain State Park is located at 1792 Pilot Knob Park Road Pinnacle, NC 27043. Park, visitor center, and park office hours vary by month. For more information visit their website at www.ncparks.gov/pilot-mountain-state-park/home or call 336-325-2355. Their email address is pilot.mountain@ncparks.gov

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