Someone boring would have said “Hey, Raven Rock State Park has both horse trails and hiking trails, maybe it would be best to just try hiking with goats on the horse side of the river?”. But that sounds like a lame cop out, doesn’t it?
Turns out you can hike with goats on the south side of the river, but you are going to need a goat packing permit! Depending on the current state of the overworked website system that the North Carolina State Park Service is running you might be able to get it online now, but frankly, I broke down and actually called the park office on this one. For the first time in 20 years. Amazingly, given how poorly we fund the park service, someone actually answered! You will need to call and get them to email you the permit at least 2 weeks in advance of your visit and carry the permit with you when you hike. However, I never had anyone ask for the permit nor did they charge me for issuing the permit since I was only bringing one goat.
Location: The hiking only side of Raven Rock State Park.
Is it goat approved? YES. This park actually has a permitting system to allow goats to visit. However, like everything in the middle of the state, this park is very popular with day hikers and horse back riders, so come early to really enjoy the trip.
How you get there: Raven Rock Road off Hwy 421. Be careful looking for the turn as the signage is small and poorly maintained. The best parking for unloading goats is the lot on your right as you enter, not on the loop in front of the main building, (which gets packed as the day wears on, making it almost impossible to load up goats at the end of the day).
Time for hike: The hike recounted here is 9 miles long, and takes in most of the interesting points on the south side of the park. This is a loop hike with two short out and backs.
Trails to Take:
Start at the parking lot, and aim for the trail head located in the woods to the north of the parking area. Take Raven Rock Loop Trail. Do this one first! It leads to Raven Rock, which is probably the only noticeable rock outcropping available to us flat landers living in the Piedmont region of North Carolina! As such, on any given weekend day you can find plenty of people standing around gawking at it in amazement, often blocking the stairwell down to the riverside that runs along the edge of the rock face. This stairwell is very goat friendly…provided its not crowded with people taking selfies with their phones. So start with the loop.
Do go down to the river bank at Raven Rock and check it out. It has excellent goat hopping rocks and is a good water point for goats as well. Unleashed dogs may be present and the quarters, especially when descending and ascending the stairs, are tight so keep an eye out. The rest of the loop varies from boring to mundane, but make sure you take the Fish Traps Trail, which is an out and back, if it is winter. This trail leads out to an overlook at the river, and during the winter you can see the remains of a lock and dam structure on the opposite bank. During the summer the abundant southern plant life gets in the way. There is also supposedly some fish traps on this trail. I never actually found those…possibly they were eaten by the local kudzu.
Anyway, get back on Raven Rock Loop and endure the mind numbing tedium of the short walk back to the parking lot. Cross the entry road once you reach the parking lot again, and you’ll be headed towards the trail head to Campbell Creek Loop. This one will be more fun! This trail runs up and down a few hills and across the creek. Less popular than the Raven Rock Loop, enjoy it at a more leisurely pace. The short out and back trail Lanier Falls Trail is definitely worth the walk. It will take you out to the river bank with an awesome view of a large stone island and some swirling rapids. After you’ve had your fill of wondering if you should have bought a kayak instead of a goat, the rest of the trail is a pleasant up and down hike winding back towards the creek, and eventually, the parking lot.
1. You need a goat permit. Really. I know, its stupid – the dog guys don’t need a permit! However, since it costs nothing, and it takes about 5 seconds to fill out and then you are legally entitled to be at the park and do what you want, I guess it sort of is okay. Maybe.
In sum: Sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t really want to do. One of those things is filling out paperwork at the DMV. And now you get to do the same thing for the park service.