A Fall Hike at Occoneechee Mountain

pink sunset over forest

On Nov. 14, 2021 I went hiking at Occoneechee Mountain (625 Virginia Cates Road, Hillsborough, NC 27278). There were a huge number of people, and for good reason since fall had finally arrived after a considerable delay. While there, I saw a riot of color in the forest, a few glimpses of the Eno River, and a stunning sunset at the Overlook — one of the most impressive views in all of central North Carolina.

When I arrived at Occoneechee Mountian, the parking lot was so full there were park rangers at the entrance ready to turn me away. Fortunately, though, there were a few vehicles on their way out, which meant there was room for me to come in.

After parking, I joined Occoneechee Mountain Trail — a 2.2 mile loop that gives the grand tour — and was immediately greeted by a riot of fall color.

Trail through forest in fall

Within a tenth of a mile, I reached a clearcut, crossed it, and went up a switchback. After passing a few small groups of people, I set up my tripod and took a few photos.

Hiker on trail in fall

Once done, I continued hiking and came to the first fork in the trail, where I took a left.

Soon the trail descended through pine trees. After a few hundred feet, I came to a scenic bend where a runner suddenly came up behind me. After he passed, I took a few photos.

Trail winds through fall forest

Chestnut oak trees (Quercus montana) grow all over the place at Occoneechee Mountain — there’s one on the left in the above photo — and they’re one of my favorite things about the place.

Over the next quarter mile, I passed a few rock formations, reached another switchback, and came to the north side of the mountain.

Trail winds into the distance

In front of me, the trail snaked through the woods.

Soon I reached the Eno River.

Eno River surrounded by fall forest

As I bent down and took several photos, I realized how fortunate I am to live in a place where nature is still at least somewhat intact.

After a quarter mile along the Eno River, I climbed a flight of steps, passed a cliff on my right, climbed another flight of steps, then came to the steepest ascent at Occoneechee Mountain.

Power line over trail

After climbing 250 feet, I came to a massive power line that straddles the trail and passed underneath.

Within a few hundred feet, I came to a fork in the trail and turned right onto Overlook Trail. In another few hundred feet, the Overlook finally came into view.

View of Hillsborough NC from Occoneechee Mountain

Up until now, I hadn’t been paying close attention to the colors of sky, considering all the colors of the forest. But the combination of fall color and sunset was simply jaw-dropping.

Eno River and surrounding forest at sunset in fall

After soaking up the beauty for about fifteen minutes (which you can see more of in my YouTube video of this hike), I hiked the last leg of the trail and returned to the parking lot. And as I got in my car, I realized how thankful I am for life, for fall, for the beauty of a sunset, and for places in our world where nature can still thrive.

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