Description of Hike: The Occoneeche Mountain State Natural Area contains 190 acres of land and more than three miles of hiking trails. The area is situated around Occoneeche Mountain Summit (867 feet) which rises 350 feet from the Eno River and is the highest point between Hillsborough, North Carolina and the Atlantic Ocean. The hike Ashley and I completed was the Occoneeche Mountain Loop Trail which is 2.2 miles in length with an elevation gain of just over 300 feet. The Occoneeche Mountain Loop Trail is well marked and is easy to follow. The hike features hilly terrain through mature oak forests and goes along the Eno River. There are several side trails, one we did was the rock quarry view trail below the rock quarry. The Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail is marked by red circles throughout the park. For a Occoneechee Mountain State Recreation Area park map, click Here.
There are two little fishing ponds that are near the trailhead area where you can go fishing, if that is your cup of tea. The Occoneechee ponds are great for catching bass and bream on worms, crickets, and lures. The Eno is a great place for fly-fishing, casting lures, or baiting with the ever reliable worms and crickets. Most of the river can be waded and there are many openings for bank fishing. Commonly caught game fish include largemouth bass, bluegill, redbreast sunfish, and the feisty Roanoke bass. Roanoke bass, locally know as "red-eye" are found in only four river drainages in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. Chubs and bullheads add to the fishing fun. All North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission fishing regulations are enforced.
The top of Occoneechee Mountain's ridge and northern slopes provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species that are typically found in the mountains, and some plant species reach their easternmost limits here. These include Bradley's spleenwort and wild sarsaparilla. Catawba rhododendron is present on the steep rock outcrop adjacent to the ravine, and a mountain laurel-galax community grows on the ravine's slopes. Sweet pinesap, another rare plant, also grows here, along with large witch-alder. Yet another mountainous species that grows in the natural area is the purple fringeless orchid.
Researchers believe that the area's habitat has remained relatively unchanged since the last Ice Age due to the presence of brown elfin, a rare butterfly, as well as several unique plant species. The brown elfin is typically found in mountainous and northern areas, and the nearest brown elfin population to Occoneechee Mountain is more than 100 miles west. When the Piedmont's habitat underwent enormous transformations after the Ice Age, the area became unable to support the brown elfin and other species more accustomed to cooler environments. Brown elfins, believed to have once populated the Piedmont, were restricted to the state's mountains. However, the brown elfin butterflies at Occoneechee Mountain remained.
Rating: Elevation Gain: 300 ft. (Easy), Distance: 2.2 Miles Roundtrip (Easy)
Time to Complete Hike: 1 - 2 hours.