Last summer we profiled attractions that you can visit as a day trip from the Charlotte region. The series was called “There and Back.” We are going to revisit that series each Wednesday for the rest of this summer. In this installment, we visit Crowders Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Take I-85 south from Charlotte, and in about half an hour, you’ll see something that looks pretty out of place: a mountain. The rocky peaks of Crowders Mountain rise more than 800 feet above the surrounding piedmont, about the same height as the spires of the Bank of America Corporate Center in uptown Charlotte.
The mountain is what geologists call an erosional remnant. What looks like an isolated mountain today was actually part of a large pre historic mountain range.
"If we were to go back a hundred million years in the past, we would see more of these rocks in what is now the piedmont. Now, we’re just left with the bits and pieces that were there before.," says UNC Charlotte geologist Any Bobyarchick. He says there are several of these mountains in North Carolina, like Pilot mountain and Hanging Rock.
North Carolina turned Crowder’s Mountain into a state park in the 1970s, and it’s become a popular spot for hikers and rock climbers. Nowadays, between 300,o00 and 400,000 people visit every year.
What Crowders has become known for though, is its views. There are two peaks that offer unobstructed panoramas that go on for miles. On clear days, you can just make out the high rises in uptown charlotte.
As you climb to the top and the trails get rockier, the plant life changes. You see species, which don’t grow in other places in the region, like mountain laurel and rhododendrons. There are more pine trees than oaks, and Rangers say you can even spot a few American chestnuts---a species that was almost completely wiped out by a blight in the early 20th Centrury. There are also a wide range of birds. Ranger Kelly Cooke says it’s a good place to try to spot a rare scarlet tanager. He says you’ll know when you’ve seen one by the color, “an iridescent bright red, knock-your-eyes-out…[it] makes a cardinal look pale by comparison.”
One thing you won’t see a lot of on Crowder’s Mountain is water. Cooke says it’s one of the driest state parks in North Carolina. There are a few small creeks, even a manmade lake. But, he says, “by the middle to end of summer, unless it keeps raining on a regular basis, it’s become a regular thing that those will start drying up…and the lake will start to dry up, too”
When you follow the ridgeline of Crowder’s down into South Carolina, you get to Kings Mountain State park and National Military Park; part of the same formation. It’s the site of a pivotal Revolutionary War battle. A visitor’s center shows a film about the history of the battle.
There’s a trail through the historic area, marked with monuments and informational signs. As you walk around, the area’s history comes to life. In October of 1780, Patriot militias surrounded the mountain, where British forces held the high ground. But that advantage wasn’t enough, many of the patriot militiamen were from the area, and their knowledge of the terrain helped them to defeat the British.
The trail lets you see the battle from both perspectives, winding around the base, where the patriot militias came together and then up to the top, where the British army was.
Historians say the decisive victory proved to be a turning point in the Revolutionary war, causing Lord Cornwallis to cancel his plans to invade North Carolina.