Independence Day is a day we celebrate our independence from tyranny, and the freedom we’ve enjoyed since. Many people will be off work this July 4th, and this ensures a perfect time for a hike! The following 5 hikes are being called Freedom Hikes by me. Not necessarily because they have anything to do with the Revolutionary War (though two of them do), but because these are hikes that celebrate your freedom. The treks I’ve picked all instill a sense of freedom and independence because of the uninhibited payoff at the end of each trail, whether a wild river waterfall, amazing view, or in the case of the first hike, a sense of epic history. I’ve ranked each hike from easiest to the most difficult. I hope you’ll find a hike among these five that will truly set you free!
Cowpens National Battlefield
Location: Cherokee County, SC
Length: 2 miles Round Trip
This gentle nature trail is located on the backside of Cowpens National Battleground at the picnic area. The trail undulates through a hardwood and pine forest, crossing several streams on sturdy bridges. After the second creek crossing, the scenery changes and becomes more secluded and quiet. A small stream bubbles to your right as you wind your way through the forest. Get a sense of the Revolutionary War battles that were perhaps fought here. I particularly enjoy this hike on foggy mornings. The hike continues over an unpaved service road and back into the forest, then winds its way through a startlingly large bamboo forest. The trail ends at the paved loop automobile road, so use caution. Walk back down to the trailhead. There are charcoal grills and picnic tables located here, which provides a perfect place to grill burgers and hotdogs and enjoy your independence!
Riley Moore Falls
Location: Westminster, SC
Length: 2.2 miles round trip
This easy hike spells freedom in another way: it has one of the best swimming holes in the Upstate, located at the base of picturesque Riley Moore Falls on the Chauga River. The trailhead is located off Spy Rock Road at the entrance of Forest Road 748C. Park here on one of several pull-offs. The forest road is too bumpy and rugged for most vehicles. After parking, you’ll need to hike nearly ½ mile to the actual trailhead. Follow the trail through a forest, soon arriving at the falls. The falls are spectacular. Though less than 15 ft. high, the waterfall is 100 ft. wide, making it look imposing. You might see a kayaker or two negotiate the Class 5 rapids of the falls. At the base of the falls is a large swimming area and sandy beach. Though remote, the place is packed on summer weekends. Keep this is mind if you enjoy a solitary hike, or want unobstructed pictures of the waterfall. Take a swim, snap pictures, hunt salamanders, or maybe spy a river otter before hiking back to your vehicle.
Location: Unicoi Mountains, Robbinsville, NC
Length: 2.5 miles roundtrip
Huckleberry Knob, at 5,560 ft., is the highest point in the Unicoi Mountain range. The trailhead is accessed at mile marker 8 on the beautiful Cherohala Skyway in the Nantahala National Forest. After a short hike up an old forest road, you’ll come to a bald called Oak Knob with very good views of the surrounding mountains. These Appalachian balds are so-named because they are devoid of tree covering like most of the surrounding mountains, giving them a “bald” appearance. Continue across the bald toward Huckleberry Knob, which is a higher area located to the left. You can easily see it. Follow the trail for around .75 mile, following the trail to the summit. Be prepared to be amazed. The views on Huckleberry Knob are entirely 360, and are some of the most panoramic you’ll ever see. Atop the bald is a metal cross marking the grave of Andy Sherman, a hunter who froze to death there in the winter of 1900. After exploring the summit, retrace your steps back to the parking area.
Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Length: 2.2 miles round trip
I would venture to say most hikers opt to take in the epic views of the Blue Ridge mountains from nearby Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain, and that’s fine. However, for my money, Sam Knob offers one of the best views of the NC mountains you’ll ever see. Plus, this is a quick and easy way to bag a peak that stands over 6,000 ft. The trail begins at the parking area at the end of Forest Road 816 at Mile Marker 420 off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trailhead is located to the right of the restrooms. Take in nice views of the Shining Rock Ledge to the right shortly after beginning the hike. You’ll then pass through an expansive grassy meadow, descending to it via wooden stairs. The iconic double summit of Sam Knob becomes clearly visible in front of you. Follow the trail up the mountain. You’ll catch views to the left and behind you. You’ll gain altitude and pass through a well-worn trail and a field of large quartz boulders. Soon, you’ll top out at Sam Knob Peak #1 to the right. Grab excellent views of the Flat Laurel Valley and Little Sam Knob here, and continue across the summit to Peak #2 which affords breathtaking views of the Shining Rock Wilderness and surrounding mountains. If this scene doesn’t set you free, nothing will! After resting and enjoying the epic scenery, return via the way you came, again taking in the spectacular views for most of the descending hike.
Rock Top Trail
Location: Crowders Mountain State Park, Gaston Co., NC
Length: 6 miles round trip
Begin this hike at the Sparrow Springs Access Area. Hang right at the sign about 100 yards up the main trail. Use caution as you cross the highway, then begin a gentle but brief ascent up the Rock Top Tail, which again veers to the right. Almost immediately you’ll be faced with an imposing boulder field that you’ll have to traverse. After following the blazes over this sometimes-tricky section, you’ll enjoy great views from the house-sized boulders on your right. Continue up the rocky ridgeline, and through the boulders taking in the martian-like rock formations and views from either side as you gain altitude. After a short while you’ll reach the true summit of this hike, a huge, flat cluster of boulders that provides excellent views. After leaving this area, there is one more overlook off an unmarked side trail to the right. The Rock Top Trail terminates at a gravel road. You can turn back here and retrace your steps, or continue ahead to the popular summit of Crowders Mountain following the Crowders Mountain Trail.