We decided to hike to the highest point in Orange County this past weekend — the summit of Occoneechee Mountain. Fortunately we don’t live in a very elevated region (the biggest towns in the county are Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, not Chapel Mountain and Moutainsborough), so this was all of 867 feet. And since this wasn’t exactly the Appalachian Trail, there was a gravel road that led six-tenths of a mile from the parking lot to the summit.
Those 10 minutes of anticipation hardly seemed adequate to prepare us for what we would find — sweeping views, stunning vistas, perhaps a souvenir stand where we could buy T-shirts to commemorate this experience? In reality it was a huge letdown — there were two electrical towers wrapped in barbed-wire fencing, and no views of anything but the I-85 highway that apparently is a major truck route and made you think you were hiking in Manhattan.
Fortunately the aptly named Overlook Trail, which runs through the backside of the mountain, provided the views we were expecting. Plus, it has the added element of danger — notice the biggest warning sign I’ve ever seen, located about 50 feet from the scenic overlook. I’m pretty sure the Grand Canyon didn’t have this kind of disclaimer.
Laura, who tends to take warnings of death quite literally and thus was nervous about going past the sign, finally relented after seeing 20 people go to the edge, including a family of four with two young girls and a couple of senior citizens. And there were benches and fencing, so clearly even the park rangers expect hikers to come closer.
There is also a 2.2 mile loop trail that goes around the mountain and along parts of the Eno River, so you can make an afternoon out of it. Assuming you survive the overlook.