Featured Hike: Bakers Mountain Loop
Published: January 19, 2023
2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina and we invite you to spend it at Catawba County Parks! Throughout the year, we'll be featuring suggested routes across our parks, kicking off the series with the Bakers Mountain Loop hike at Bakers Mountain Park.
Distance: 2.7 miles round-trip
Estimated Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 584 feet
Bakers Mountain Park is home to Catawba County’s highest elevation point. This 2.7-mile route follows the park’s outer perimeter, traversing through a chestnut oak forest up to the observation platform, passing various landmarks along the way including a crooked tree, a chimney, a gazebo and numerous rock outcroppings. Stunning year-round views await at the peak, a breathtaking reward after a challenging though short climb. From the mountain top, the trail descends nearly 600 feet to the park’s lowest point, then parallels a babbling stream that features a scenic water feature and a habitat that is home to a variety of plants, insects and amphibians, before reentering a hardwood forest to complete the loop.
Directions to Trailhead:
From I-40, take exit 121. At the top of the ramp from either direction, turn right to travel south on Old Shelby Road, bearing left at the intersection with George Hildebran Road. After traveling approximately 4.1 miles from I-40, turn left onto Bakers Mountain Road. Park entrance is to the left at the end of the road. The hike begins on the right side of the building with the park office and restrooms, at the southeastern trailhead for the Bakers Mountain Loop trail blazed in red.
Hike Description & Details:
From the park office, begin on the Bakers Mountain Loop trail (red trail) that starts just past the restrooms at the wooden Bakers Mountain Park sign decorated with tree stump stools. This spot is home to a unique bigleaf magnolia tree which produces huge leaves ranging in length from 12-36 inches and a creamy-white flower measuring 8-14 inches across, blooming for only a couple of days in early June. In the spring (late March through April and May), three species of trillium plants can be observed here at the start of the trail, which starts out flat then climbs for a short distance through a chestnut oak forest to the junction with the blue-blazed connector trail at 0.25 miles just before map stand 6.
Stay straight on the red trail on a gradual descent. At 0.28 miles, there is a spur path on the right that leads to the crooked tree (GPS coordinates: 35.65735, -81.41275). The branches of this sourwood are curved and twisted, the result of the tree bending toward the sunlight through the dense forest canopy. The tree looks like a sculpture, a natural masterpiece of spirals and twists that is a sight to be seen year-round: lush and green in spring and summer, adorned in brilliant red hues during the fall, bare and exposed in winter months.
Continuing on the main trail, you’ll quickly reach a former prospect mica mine site at 0.37 miles, marked with an interpretive sign displaying a large specimen of the muscovite variety that was excavated throughout the park especially during the period around World War II. The mineral’s glass-like ability to shine produces a golden shimmer on the trails most noticeable in the fall and winter months when the open canopy allows more sunlight to shine through and reflect off the metamorphic rock. Watch your footing as your traverse the rocky terrain, as the trail rolls gently on its way to the junction with the orange-blazed Chestnut Ridge trail at 0.48 miles, at map stand 5.
A chimney sits at this junction, built in 1917 by Ranzo Young, the same builder as the homesite of which ruins can be seen within the park off the blue-blazed A.G. Clark trail. Little is known of the structure to which the chimney belonged but the stack makes a nice photo subject, particularly in fall when this section of the park is especially showy with bright yellow, crimson and brown foliage of the surrounding oak, hickory, black gum and maple trees.
A right turn to stay on the red trail is marked with a “Mtn Top” arrowed sign as the trail begins its steady climb up to the peak, gaining almost 300 feet in the next 0.4 miles, with numerous benches along the way for a rest break. Huckleberries, or wild blueberries, fruit on bushes here in summer and occasionally signs of bear can be found nearby this popular food source, though seeing bear on a visit to the park is rare and unlikely. It isn’t uncommon to see a few squirrels and chipmunks, and sometimes to startle a deer especially on a morning visit. In May or June, one may even walk up on a spotted fawn hidden in the thick laurel areas deeper into the woods.
Continuing on the trail, a rock outcropping affectionately known by the locals as “Devil’s Den” attracts attention at 0.57 miles (GPS coordinates: 35.65892, -81.41006). Its unique geology is representative of the Cat Square terrane metamorphic rocks likely to have been deposited between 430 and 380 million years ago. The trail climbs steeply from here for 0.15 miles, then levels out and gets narrower as it follows a gully. Pinxter azaleas can be spotted blooming in this area in April, with clusters of pale pink, funnel-shaped flowers and protruding stamens. Another interesting rock outcropping sits at 0.7 miles, where the climb resumes and continues steeply up to a gazebo on the left and a picnic table on the right at 0.82 miles. On this stretch of the climb, one may notice the few dwarf pawpaw trees found here, especially noticeable when their green banana-like fruit emerges in April and ripens to brown mid-summer.
Another 35 steps past the gazebo leads to the observation platform at the park’s highest point (elevation 1623 feet) for a view of the Catawba Valley and a great spot to take in the sights. On a clear day, the views extend for 70-75 miles, with Mount Mitchell visible to the west and Grandfather Mountain to the northwest; Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountains in the Pisgah National Forest west of Grandfather, and the Brushy Mountain Range east of Grandfather. In the foreground, the observation platform is adorned by the Carolina rhododendron’s soft shell pink blooms in April and the mountain laurel’s white bell-shaped flowers in May. The view of the Catawba Valley below is especially striking in autumn, with the landscape typically hitting its fall peak color in early November.
The observation platform is also a great spot for birdwatching, where migrating raptors like red-tailed coopers and sharp-shinned hawks and turkey and black vultures can be seen flying overhead. Cardinals, titmice, chickadees and nuthatches can be spotted throughout the park year-round, especially with the open canopy of winter months. Spring brings with it colorful migratory birds such as the warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, or the indigo bunting; kinglets, brown creepers, pine warblers, hermit thrushes and fox sparrows arrive in fall for winter residence. Their songs are often drowned out by the loud calls of the crows and ravens or the hammering of woodpeckers that call Bakers Mountain home.
Upon leaving the observation platform, retrace your steps past the gazebo and take the right fork to stay on the red trail. The trail descends here, losing almost 300 feet over the next 0.3 miles. The terrain is rocky and rooty, so watch your step. The trail levels off at 1.2 miles, passing an area with a picnic table and three benches at map stand 3, and the junction with the blue-blazed A.G. Clark trail at 1.28 miles. Bear right to stay on the red trail on a gradual then rolling and finally a steady descent to the park’s lowest point at 1.6 miles (elevation 1110 feet). The trail begins to parallel a stream, adorned year-round in a carpet of green spore plants, takes a right turn at map stand 2 at 1.88 miles to cross the creek over a culvert and run alongside it on a gradual uphill to a water feature on the left at 1.98 miles (GPS coordinates: 35.66011, -81.41542). While not tall enough to be considered a waterfall, the drop is quite scenic, especially after a heavy rain, dropping from a small rock ledge in 2 or 3 distinct streams. A bench is located along the trail at the top of the water feature and a picturesque bridge crosses the creek just upstream, 2 miles into the hike.
The habitat along the creek is noticeably different, its rich soil host to diverse wildflowers that emerge in March, peak in April and taper off in May. Rosebay rhododendron blooms here in June and ferns blanket the ground with their lush foliage throughout the summer months. The area’s moist ground is host to various mushrooms that can be spotted frequently here at various times of the year and throughout the park after periods of consistent rain. The soothing sound of the creek adds to the special atmosphere of this area that is home to reptiles such as turtles and lizards, amphibians such as salamanders and frogs, and macro-invertebrates such as snails and crawfish, denoting the stream’s pristine water quality. Damselflies and dragonflies can be seen fluttering by in spring and summer, joined by the moths, cicadas, and butterflies found throughout Bakers Mountain.
Continuing on the red trail past the bridge, the path begins a slight but steady climb that flattens out at 2.3 miles, passing two picnic tables along the way. From here, it reenters a hardwood forest, traveling on a rolling terrain along the southern park boundary. The area is heavily sprinkled throughout in white when dogwood trees flower in April and when mountain laurel blossoms in May; the striking maroon-colored buds and flowers of the sweetshrub are hard to miss when in bloom mid-spring. Information about the trees, shrubs and plants inherent to the area can be found on the interpretive signs placed throughout the park and especially plentiful in this section.
At 2.7 miles, the natural surface trail joins the ADA-accessible paved trail at the western trailhead of the Bakers Mountain Loop and the terminus of this hike. A walk to your vehicle takes you past the start of the park’s LITeracy Trail, which consists of 18 individual stations that trace the storyline of a children’s book, and the park’s seasonal butterfly garden. Numerous tree species can be identified in the parking area, noteworthy for the Catawba rhododendron that blooms here in April and May; they create a beautiful backdrop at the two covered picnic shelters located at the far end of the parking lot, perfect for an after-hike refreshment to round out your visit to Bakers Mountain Park.
- 0.0 - start of hike at park office
- 0.25 - junction with blue connector trail (map stand 6)
- 0.28 - spur path to crooked tree
- 0.37 - former prospect mica mine site with mica display
- 0.48 - chimney and junction with orange Chestnut Ridge trail (map stand 5)
- 0.57 - “Devil’s Den” rock outcropping
- 0.82 - gazebo
- 0.84 - observation platform and park's highest point (elevation 1623 feet)
- 1.28 - junction with blue A.G. Clark trail (map stand 3)
- 1.6 - park’s lowest point (elevation 1110 feet)
- 1.88 - junction with blue connector trail (map stand 2)
- 1.98 - water feature
- 2.0 - bridge over stream (map stand 1)
- 2.7 - end of hike at junction with paved ADA trail
What a well-maintained trail!! The bathroom and welcome center were clean and easy to access. There was a park ranger that was helpful for finding where to start your hike. Once on the trails, they were clearly marked, had ample rest areas with benches and picnic tables, and was very easy to follow. The trails had a few nice views with information on the local wildlife and some cool creeks along the way. At the peak, there was a great area with a gazebo, a picnic table and an overlook platform. The view was very nice from the peak and it was a perfect spot to catch your breath. Overall, the hike was moderately difficult, had some good views, and nice people all the way! (AllTrails Review)
Great hiking place! Nice workout! Highly recommend it! (AllTrails Review)
Nice trail. Maintained well, great markings & tons of benches and picnic tables. (AllTrails Review)
Trail is scattered with roots and good sized rocks and is moderately steep in a few areas. The challenging aspect made it more fun to hike. The small waterfall and creek area was a perfect spot to take your shoes off, cool off and explore. There is a little picnic area at the top which was perfect for a break and a snack! (AllTrails Review)
Very well marked and extremely clean. (AllTrails Review)
Other Routes in the Series:
- Family Loop at Riverbend Park
- Outer Perimeter Route at Mountain Creek Park
- Spring Wildflower Walk at Bakers Mountain Park
- Blue Trail Run at Riverbend Park
- Loblolly Loop Bike Ride at Mountain Creek Park
- Story Walk at Bakers Mountain Park
- Green Trail Loop at Riverbend Park
- Technical MTB Ride at Mountain Creek Park
- Dog Walk at St. Stephens Park
- Highlights Tour of Bakers Mountain Park
- Highlights Loop at Riverbend Park