Hawk Mountain Hike: A Story in Photos

Once upon a time…

… sixth graders at Blue Mountain Elementary School were required to take an outdoor skills class. In the pre-Google Maps days of 1979, the goal was to teach eleven-year-old me valuable skills like how to navigate using a compass, how to track animals in the woods, and how to build a fire with one match. It rained all night and day, leading up to our final test on fire-building. I don’t recall what truly happened, but in my memory Mr. Luckenbill (?) finally shrugged and realized there was no hope of getting a dozen or so pre-teens to be able to make a fire with one measly match and piles of sodden kindling.

The “highlight” of our semester was a group outing to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for a hike. I was an obese kid with seasonal allergies who routinely “forgot” my gym clothes and roller skated to the library on the weekends. A hike in the mountains was no kind of reward for me. And it got worse when our teacher lead us to the River of Rocks trail.

The River of Rocks is a massive boulder field comprised of rocks dropped during the last Ice Age, about 10,000-15,000 years ago. In addition to be old, the rocks are also shaky, bite-y, and somewhat terrifying.

Let’s enjoy a description of the River of Rocks from the trail guide, shall we?

This trail explores the valley, and drops 700 feet, requiring a steep decent and return climb. It leads to the River of Rocks boulder field, which can be seen from most lookouts. Because the climb can be physically exhausting, be sure to carry more water and snacks than you think you may need.

Due to the rocky nature of Appalachian landscape, plan for your hike to take longer than you may think so you are guaranteed to return before dusk. If you would like to see the boulder field, consider a walk down from South Lookout to the boulder field, and return the same way instead of attempting the entire loop, particularly if you are not an experienced hiker. The estimated 3 to 4 hour time limit is NOT an exaggeration.

Does that sound like a good playground for a chubby bookworm to you?

I spent the entire hike over the River of Rocks lagging far behind the rest of the class, terrified, ashamed, and on the verge of tears (but too proud to actually cry in front of my teacher). I’m not sure how long my slog over those craggy edges took me, but it felt like an eternity.

As you can imagine, I didn’t harbor many warm feelings for Hawk Mountain or hiking for a long time after that.

Now that I’m in control of my own fate, and not a kid stuck on a yellow bus with a sack lunch in my hands, I love to visit Hawk Mountain and enjoy the moderate 1-mile hike to the North Lookout. For the record, I still don’t think the River of Rocks looks like a fun way to spend my time.

Here are some snaps from our walk to the North Lookout yesterday.

This old school sign makes me expect to see Yogi Bear show up at any moment. “Hey, hey, Boo Boo!”


This is what much of the lower parts of the path through the woods is like…


Then things start to get more interesting, with a wooden bridge and the beginning of a steeper incline…


The last little bit before the tippy-top at the North Lookout is a twisty, stone staircase. Y’all know I cannot resist a twisty, stone staircase (especially when I can’t see the top)…

At the top, we were rewarded with a panoramic view and a few bird sightings, including a turkey vulture and a broad-winged hawk…

On our way down the mountain, I heard a shuffling noise and saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. A camera-shy toad hopped across the path and hid in plain sight. Can you see him?


These rustic benches appear along the trail for daydreaming along the way…

The end.

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