South Mountains State Park
Counties: Burke, Cleveland, and Rutherford
Habitats: conifer, mixed conifer, and mixed hardwoods.
Key Birds: Summer: Broad-winged Hawk, Hooded, Worm-eating, Black-throated Green Warblers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Winter: Pine Siskin. Year-round: Common Raven.
Best Time to Bird: Early spring through fall.
Description: South Mountains State Park is North Carolina's largest state park with over 40 miles of trails. Elevation ranges from 1200 feet along the Jacob's Fork River to 3,000 feet on Buzzard's Roost along the western edge of the park. The park is filled with streams and tumbling brooks. The most visited area is High Shoals Falls where the Jacob's Fork River takes an 80-foot plunge over bare rock.
Directions: From I-40 take exit 105, turn south onto NC 18, travel nine miles and make a right onto Sugarloaf Road, SR 1913. Travel this road to Old NC 18, turning left. Travel four miles and make a right onto Ward's Gap Road, SR 1901. The park is ahead on the right on South Mountains Park Avenue, SR 1904.
Birding Highlights: If possible visit the park in the spring, during the migration period. There are several easy trails that allow a most enjoyable morning. The Hemlock Nature Trail is a .74 mile loop that strolls along the river where Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white and Hooded Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireo are commonly found. The High Shoals Falls Loop Trail is a 1.2-mile loop that winds in and out of mixed hardwoods and rhododendron thickets before reaching the top of High Shoals Falls. In the summer check for Worm-eating Warbler. Listen for Pileated Woodpecker and look for Eastern Phoebe around the pool at the bottom of the falls. To find Ruffed Grouse, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Common Raven try one of the less traveled trails, such as the Fox or Ben Knob Trails.
General Information: South Mountains State Park is open daily during daylight hours except for Christmas Day when it is closed. Trail maps may be picked up at the ranger station. Park Office Hours are 8:00am-5:00pm weekdays.
DeLorme map grid: page 55, A6
North Carolina Travel Map grid: E2
For more information: South Mountains State Park, (828) 433-4772; http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/raro/main.php