The start of fall is upon us with shorter days, cooler temperatures, and everything flavored in pumpkin spice, but there’s one highlight of the season that many folks look forward to the most: autumn foliage. As the leaves change colors to various shades of red, orange and yellow, the trees around create an outdoor show that's not to be missed.
The North Carolina mountains are a popular destination for leaf peeping, but there’s no need to travel far when you can witness fall’s splendor close to home at Catawba County Parks. This time last year, we featured Riverbend Park on this blog post by our Ranger Lori Owenby; this year we want to tell you about autumn’s beauty at Bakers Mountain Park. Along with Mountain Creek Park and St. Stephens Park, they are two of the four parks in the Catawba County Park System, all of which make great destinations for outdoor fun in the fall - or any season!
Bakers Mountain Park is home to Catawba County’s highest elevation point at 1780 feet. A Piedmont monadnock ecosystem, the peak is an isolated hill that rises conspicuously above the relatively flat level of its surrounding topography. Bakers Mountain can be seen from miles away, standing guard over the area. Its home is a 189-acre park that offers nearly 5 miles of easy-to-advanced hiking trails that ascend over creeks and through mature chestnut oak forest to a mountaintop observation deck with stunning year-round views.
In autumn, the observation deck is the perfect spot to see the Catawba Valley adorned in color, with the landscape typically hitting its peak in early November. On a clear day, the views extend for 70-75 miles, with Mount Mitchell visible to the west and Grandfather Mountain to the northwest; Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountains in the Pisgah National Forest west of Grandfather, and the Brushy Mountain Range east of Grandfather. The trek to the top is only 3/4 mile from the parking area with various tree species painting the park in brilliant hues along the way.
Black gum, sourwood and dogwood trees are typically the first to turn, displaying shades of red in mid-October, with red maples adding their flaming color later in the month. Chestnut oaks and hickories join in with shades of yellow and gold about a week later, in early November. The entire show lasts a few weeks at Bakers Mountain Park, typically peaking around October 25-29, sometimes as early as October 21, depending on weather. The end of October into early November is thus generally the best time to visit the park for peak fall color.
Autumn also brings with it a change in avian population at Bakers Mountain and makes for a perfect time for bird watching at the park. Joining the cardinals, titmice, chickadees and nuthatches that can be seen at the park year-round are the ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, brown creepers, pine warblers, hermit thrushes and fox sparrows that arrive for winter residence. Their songs are often drowned out by the loud calls of the crows and ravens that are especially vocal in the fall. The observation deck is a great spot for birdwatching at the park, where migrating raptors like the red-tailed coopers and sharp-shinned hawks and turkey and black vultures can be seen flying overhead.
An earthy smell fills the park in autumn. When the leaves fall, they create an open canopy above. The trails up Bakers Mountain begin to sparkle at this time of the year; with less leaves on the trees, more sunlight shines through and reflects off the metamorphic rock terrain. The mountain is home to many small mines that were important excavation sites for muscovite mica, especially during the period around World War II; the mineral’s glass-like ability to shine produces a golden shimmer on the trails most noticeable in the fall and winter months.
Autumn foliage, an increased bird population, and a sparkle on the trails create a perfect scene at Bakers Mountain Park in the fall. Come experience it for yourself! Located at 6680 Bakers Mountain Road in Hickory, the park is open seven days a week from 8am - 7pm in October and 8am - 5pm November through March (hours vary seasonally). For more information about Bakers Mountain Park or any of the Catawba County Parks, visit catawbacountyparks.org or follow Catawba County Parks on Facebook and Instagram.
Photo Credit: Denise Clay