by Evan Thomas Moore, Winston-Salem Staff

You’ve been itching to get outside all week; the weather has been unbelievable, and your hiking boots in the corner of your closet are collecting more dust than mountain dirt. You’ve got to go hiking! But time is precious, and there aren’t enough hours in the day. The Appalachians are too far, you think. Maybe next weekend… Fortunately, for those in Winston-Salem and surrounding cities, Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Parks are within close driving distance, so there’s no excuse for delaying that day hike!

As a native of Virginia with a brief track record in North Carolina, I have much exploring still ahead of me; but so far, Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock have provided several fun-filled days in the outdoors.

Pilot Mountain, located between Pinnacle and Mount Airy, NC, towers 2,421 feet tall. It is a giant monadnock amongst a heritage-rich landscape and part of the Sauratown Mountain Range. On a clear day, it can be seen miles away, incoming on Route 52 out of Winston. I first visited “Jomeokee,” as the Saura Indians once called it, in October, 2008. While visitors are more than welcome to park at Little Pinnacle Overlook and forego the arduous climb, my friend Jennie and I attempted the Grindstone Trail, which takes hikers from the bottom up with a 500-foot plus elevation gain in under two miles. On this breezy October day, the trees were painted red, orange, and yellow, and as we neared the summit, the tree line thinned to reveal an expansive view of azure skies and vibrant countryside. Immense, white cliffs border the Ledge Spring Trail, which forms a loop with the Grindstone, taking hikers to the overlook. There, visitors are presented with a clear view of Big Pinnacle (Pilot Mountain), home to raptors and ravens.

Jomeokee Trail leads hikers down and around the knob-shaped mountain, but climbing the steep rock walls that make Pilot such a unique monolith is forbidden to ensure the survival of the birds that inhabit it. However, rock climbers frequent the aforementioned cliffs along Ledge Spring Trail. Jennie and I traversed the Jomeokee Trail, awed by Pilot’s bold presence, and assailed by legions of lady bugs, a sign – I am told – of good fortune. And if my first visit to Pilot Mountain is any indication, you better believe I’ll be back in the spring.

Read More in PART II