On a whim, my husband and I decided to pack up our camping gear and escape for a few days. At the recommendation of a friend, we opted for some hiking and trail running at Morrow Mountain State Park. One of the cool things about being self employed and co-parenting with an ex means that sometimes, you CAN pack up your camping stuff on a whim and escape into the woods. The counter to that, it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m glued to my computer screen, working.
I’m definitely not complaining. But back to the topic at hand:
Morrow Mountain State Park
Morrow Mountain State Park is a 4,545 acre park located in Albemarle, NC, just about a 3 hour drive from Myrtle Beach. The park consists of:
- Three mountain peaks of the Uwharrie mountain range (Hattaway Mountain, Morrow Mountain, and Sugarloaf Mountain)
- Lake Tillery waterfront, and boat rentals
- 32 miles of trails (15 miles of single track and 16 miles of bridle trail).
- A large campground
- Swimming pool
- A number of educational opportunities.
Trail Running at Morrow Mountain State Park
I could go into great detail about how incredible the park is, how the staff was wildly friendly, and how the campground was impeccable, but you’re here for the trail running details. So let’s get to it!
Having made one single, three day long trip to Albemarle, I am far from an expert when it comes to trail running at Morrow Mountain State Park. But, I can share our experience, and hopefully provide a bit of helpful information to anyone else who may be hoping to run the trails at the park for the first time.
Admission / Parking
There is no admission or parking fee to enter Morrow Mountain State Park. The public is welcome to come and go as long as the gates are open, during the park’s operating hours. (You can find those hours HERE)
I recommend starting by heading straight to the main office to grab a free trail map. Then, take a moment to chat with the staff (if they aren’t busy). I’ve been to dozens – if not hundreds – of State Parks in my lifetime, and while the staff is always welcoming, I’ve yet to meet staff as friendly and outgoing as they are at Morrow Mountain.
From this main parking lot, you can access the trailhead to Backpack Trail (2.0 miles/easy) and Morrow Mountain Trail (2.6 mile one way / moderate). This trail eventually also intersects with:
- Laurel Trail (0.6 miles / easy)
- Sugarloaf Mountain Trail (2.8 miles / strenuous)
- Mountain Loop Trail (0.8 miles / easy)
From the parking lot at the pool, you can access:
- Hattaway Mountain Trail (2.0 miles / strenuous)
- Quarry Trail (0.6 miles / easy)
From the boathouse parking lot at the bottom of the park, you can access:
- Fall Mountain Trail (4.1 miles / moderate)
- Three Rivers Trail (0.8 miles / easy)
If you plan to hit ALL of the trails, the main road is easy to navigate by foot as well. The 25 mph park wide speed limit left me feeling safe enough while running on the pavement to get to a trail head.
NOTE* At the time of publishing, all 16 miles of bridle trails are currently closed to the public due to storm damage.
There are restrooms located at the main park office, as well as the boat house parking lots. Further, there is indeed a restroom available at the summit of Morrow mountain, as there is also a road that leads to the top. Concessions – such as drinks, chips, and candy – are available for purchase at the boathouse during operating hours.
A quick history on this region: the Uwharries are one of the oldest mountain ranges in the Eastern United States. When first formed, these mountains rose to over 20,000 feet above sea level. But wind, water, and time have eroded the mountains over the last 500 million years, and now they all stand under 1,000 feet. Morrow Mountain is one of the highest peaks at 936 feet above sea level.
In short: trail running at Morrow Mountain State Park isn’t going to have you covering any massive elevation. However, the wide variety of terrain, trail surfaces, and views are absolutely worth the trip to the park.
All of the trails are incredibly well marked, and easy to follow. In addition to regular trail blazes, such as these:
…all trail intersections were marked with a sign that included a map, and explained where you needed to go next (depending on where you came from.)
Fall Mountain Trail
We started our trail adventures with Fall Mountain Trail. This 4.1 mile loop is ranked as a “moderate” trail. It’s important to remember that these classifications were made for your average park visitor walker/hiker. In other words, this trail would be absolutely no problem for a moderately experienced trail runner.
Fall Mountain Trail head is located right near the boathouse. The first half mile of the trail runs along the shore of Lake Tillery, providing some gorgeous views.
Due to storm damage and erosion, the water front trail section is quickly rerouted to a service road. Fortunately, as mentioned above, the trail is incredibly well marked and easy to follow.
From there you gently climb to the summit of Fall Mountain. There are a number of sustained climbs, but they are relatively gentle and easily runnable. Terrain varies from dirt single track trail, to double wide littered in loose stone. One of the biggest surprises, for us, was the ever constant variety in terrain
The descent, just like the ascent, is not terribly steep. Enough of a challenge that you’ll feel it in your quads, but it’s certainly beginner friendly (and I’m a sea level, flat land dweller, so I can relate).
Sugarloaf Mountain Trail
Sugarloaf Mountain was by far our favorite trail. To say this trail ran the gamut of trail terrain would be an understatement. One minute you’re running through single track…
…the next you’re climbing a slippery rock covered, double wide trail.
Once you summit the mountain, you find yourself in a field full of shoulder high grass…
Then you’re coming down a steep, narrow trail that hugs the side of the mountain, providing gorgeous views of nearby hills.
This 2.8 mile trail is labeled “strenusous” and I would definitely say that’s a fair rating (again, for the average trail user). Some of the steep switchbacks on the second half of the loop (we ran clockwise) were slippery and relatively technical.
Because of the rocky terrain, I would definitely recommend wearing trail specific shoes. Multiple times during your descent down Sugarloaf, Geoff said to me “I’m so glad I didn’t wear my vibram (five fingers)!” No one likes a rock jabbing into their plantar fascia.
As there is no water available on trail, I would highly recommend a water bottle. Whether or not you need a fully hydration bladder is based on how long you anticipate being on trail. For reference, the longest trail, Morrow Mountain, clocks in at 5.2 miles total (2.6 out and back). Of course you can piece together multiple trails to make up a much longer run.
If you’re an experienced trail runner, trekking poles aren’t necessary. Unless you have hesitations with your balance, the climbs and descents aren’t rugged enough to warrant poles.
Lastly, definitely bring a swimsuit to hit the pool after your run, or rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard on Lake Tillery.
Hands down, my favorite part about Morrow Mountain State Park was the vast amount of wildlife we saw among the lush, green forest. Countless deer crossed our path, including half a dozen spotted fawns. We also saw squirrels, frogs, hummingbirds, ospreys, bald eagles, and a number of song birds. Other frequently seen wildlife include box turtles, owls, racoons, and snakes. The park claims there are no bears, which surprised me for this area.
In short (who are we kidding, these posts are never short) our experience trail running at Morrow Mountain State Park was definitely one to write home about. Which is why I penned this very post. If you are looking for a gorgeous park with wonderfully maintained trails, full of history and all of the wonders nature has to offer, I highly recommend putting Morrow Mountain State Park on your “must visit” list.
We will definitely return…and I’ll update this post when we hit some more of the trails!