Medoc Mountain State Park
February 21, 2019
Medoc Mountain State Park in the evening – a medley of sights and sounds.
As the sun drops, the lower horizon turns pink. The frogs begin to chirp. Slowly, they ratchet up their volume. The owls, not to be outdone, begin calling back and forth across the forest. As the owls’ conversation becomes more frequent, the frog songs diminish. It must be a fool-hardy frog who sends out a beacon to his position as the owls search for dinner.
A few yips here and there in the distance are soon replaced with full on howls. Coyotes or local hunting dogs? The howls stay stationary – it must be a penned up hound.
The brightest of the stars make an appearance against the backdrop of a waxing crescent moon. The hooting of the owls diminishes. It must be the all-clear signal for the frogs – they begin to chirp again.
The sun sets, and the stars appear in force. The campground host had likened the night sky in the park “equivalent to sitting at 12000 feet”. I think he might be right.
This is the perfect ending to a day spent hiking in Medoc Mountain State Park.
Medoc Mountain State Park – the facts
Medoc Mountain State Park, located in Halifax County, North Carolina, is a little over an hour northeast of Raleigh. Far enough away to escape the city sounds and light, but close enough to be an easy day trip or overnight escape.
Speaking of mountains – this is eastern North Carolina. The “mountain” is 325 feet high – barely taller than the statue of Liberty. The mountain refers to a long-gone mountain range from the Paleozoic Age. A time before dinosaurs roamed the earth.
The park offers a variety of activities:
- Mountain Biking
- Bridle Trails
- Paddling Trail
- Bigfoot hunting
Bigfoot hunting? Yep. Some locals have reported seeing Sasquatch in and around the park.
The park is family-friendly. There is no fee to enter the park. The event schedule includes ranger-led programs targeted at kids.
Make your first stop the visitor center. Exhibits show plants and animals you may spy in the park. The friendly and knowledgeable staff is quick to answer any questions. And you can meet Charlie, the corn snake. He is the snake ambassador – teaching everyone about the goodness of snakes.
The park map includes a detailed history of the park.
Until the early 1900s, the area was a vineyard started by Sidney Weller in the 1800’s. The name Medoc comes from a region of France known for its wines. We scoured the trails – we found neither grapes, vineyards, nor wine.
In the 1920s, the boy scouts and timber companies used the area.
From the 1930s till the 1960s, mining operations explored methods of removing molybdenum from the area. The mineral molybdenum has several uses including a purpose in the petroleum industry. No mines were ever actually developed in the area.
Established in 1973, the state park is young. Being a relatively new park, the forest is still being regrown. Remnants of the boy scout camp and prior forest logging are visible.
The park has 10 miles of hiking-only trails that range from meandering along the creek (easy) to summiting the “mountain” (moderate). Distances range from .5 to 3-mile loops. Some of the loops (e.g. the Summit Loop Trail) are accessed off of other trails, not from the main trailhead.
Blazes on the trees mark the hiking trails. Pay attention to the signage and the park map as some of the trails share the same blazes (same color, same shape).
Trails are well-maintained and include boardwalks in low-lying sections. There were very few ‘mucky’ areas where rerouting or social trails have formed.
What scenery should you expect? Subtle and pleasant, not panoramic views. Follow the tat-a-tat sounds and spot the woodpeckers foraging for their meal from dead trees. Count how many trees along the stream show signs of beaver activity. On the Summit Loop Trail, the charred trees are from the 2018 prescribed burn. You can also stop to see the small unsigned cemetery housing ancestors of the Weller family. In the spring, keep an eye out for blooming Mountain Laurel – an unusual sight this far east.
If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the Neuse River waterdog – an 11-inch reddish-brown salamander. It has only gills (no lungs) so you have to look for it in the creek, not on land. This salamander is usually only found in the Neuse and Tar rivers so spotting it is a treat.
For more adventure, check the events calendar for a full moon hike.
Hikers are also permitted on the biking and bridle trails.
Mountain Biking Trails
The almost 10-miles of mountain bike trails opened in 2017. The three trails are rated moderate.
For the biker looking to up their game, check out the events schedule for bi-weekly night rides on the trails.
The park has something for horse-lovers as well. There are over ten miles of bridle trails in the southern section of the park.
The park is not a designated dark-sky location. Yet, it has phenomenal star-gazing opportunities.
The campground host said the night sky in the park was an opportunity not to be missed. “We don’t have light bleed up here,” he told us. Given the park’s proximity to Raleigh, I thought he might be exaggerating. When night fell and the clouds cleared out, I realized he wasn’t.
Local astronomy clubs occasionally offer public viewing opportunities.
Little Fishing creek runs through the park and is fed by an artesian well. It has been called the cleanest stream in North Carolina.
Bring your fishing rod and proper license to fish the Little Fishing creek. Expect to catch bass, bluegill, and sunfish.
Paddlers can travel an hour down the Little Fishing creek. There are put-in and take-out spots inside the park. Check with the park staff for information on water levels.
Swimming is not permitted in the creek.
If you want more than a day trip, secure a spot at one of the 34 sites at the family campground. Hot-showers are available and some sites have electricity. The sites are off-set and spaced so you are not sitting directly next to your neighbor. All the sites have gravel tent pads, a fire ring, a picnic table, and easy access to drinking water. Most are back-in sites with gravel driveways at least 30 feet long. There are a few pull-through sites for RVs.
A group campground and equestrian campground are also available.
If you brought your lunch, use the large picnic shelter near the main trailheads. A large field next to it is perfect for a game of tag or an impromptu soccer game.
If you need lunch, consider picking up some carry-out from one of the locals favorite spots – Lynch’s BBQ & Grill (4 miles west of the park). It is not fast-food and definitely isn’t for vegetarians but it is tasty and worth the wait. Place your order at the window, and then wait in your car for them to wave you over when your food is ready.
The park itself can keep you busy for an entire weekend. But, if you are looking to add-on some near-by fun, check out:
- Sylvan Heights Bird Park – a public walk-through bird park
- De Hart Botanical Gardens of Louisburg College – private botanical gardens
- Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail – 7-mile towpath and museum
Given its proximity to Raleigh, the dark sky traits, and the opportunity to both hike and mountain bike, Medoc Mountain State Park is worth visiting. Having seen neither the Neuse River waterdog nor Bigfoot on our visit, this park is back on our list for future adventures.
- Name: Medoc Mountain State Park
- Location: Hollister, NC
- Family Friendly: yes
- Cost: $