Raleigh-Durham, NC: Occoneechee Mountain Loop

In a mere 3.2 miles, reach the top of Occoneechee Mountain—the tallest point between the North Carolina Triangle and the Atlantic Ocean.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Getting to the highest point between North Carolina’s Research Triangle and the Atlantic Ocean is no easy feat, yet no easier is it to forget. Hiking among stretches of Chestnut Oaks that line Occoneechee Mountain, look for populations of groundhogs, wild turkey and deer drinking from the Eno River and feeding on the oak’s berries. Keep a keen eye out for the Brown Elfin Butterfly (a species found nowhere else in the region) that is believed to have been around since the Ice Age. Cap off all your hard work with a summit that has been prized by the region for years—something every outdoor adventurer in Raleigh-Durham must eventually conquer. 

Take once last bathroom trip and grab some maps at the trailhead before heading off. On the path, walk west, soon crossing through a cut in the forest made for power lines. As you move, keep the peak on your inner edge. Traversing, expect to gain and lose elevation frequently.

About a mile in, you will cross a small bridge. Soon after, the trail will meet up with Eno River. Veer right with the trail to parallel the flower water. Take a break to look at the striking cliffs above. Eventually, turn right at the state park boundary and climb a set of stairs. 

Near mile 1.6, you will run into a gravel road. Turn right on the road for the summit. At 867 feet, you will have topped Occoneechee. After patting yourself on the back, head in the direction of the way you came—this time, at the gravel road, taking a right on the Cox Mountain Loop. Continue around the mountain through thick stands of mountain laurel (rare in the Triangle) past two ponds, and back to the parking lot.

MORE PARK INFO: Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, (919) 383-1686; ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/ocmo/main.php

-Mapped by John Thomas


Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5.1



Location: 36.060479, -79.117441



Location: 36.06041, -79.120671

Cross through a cut in the forest made for power lines.


Location: 36.064364, -79.124876

Cross a small bridge


Location: 36.064937, -79.123203

The trail meets up with the Eno River here. Go right as the trail parallels the river.


Location: 36.065058, -79.120134

The trail traverses a bluff over the Eno with rock cliffs on one side and a steep drop to the river on the other.


Location: 36.065769, -79.119169

The trail climbs from the river and arrives at an impressive view of the quarry with sheer tall cliffs above. Follow the signs and go left here.


Location: 36.066099, -79.118739

The trail turns right here at the state park boundary and climbs some stairs.


Location: 36.065214, -79.117581

The Cox Mountain Trail goes left here, but continue right to the overlook from the top of the quarry.


Location: 36.065093, -79.118117

Overlook with a beautiful view of the river and forest below. Might be closed due to instability and unpredictable rock slides.


Location: 36.064104, -79.117302

The trail arrives at a gravel road. Go right and it will take you to the summit.


Location: 36.061936, -79.121572

At 867 feet, the summit. Turn around and backtrack to the Overlook Trail and then to the Cox Mountain Trail where you should go right to complete the loop.


Location: 36.065353, -79.114448

The trail walks along power lines and then turns right up into a section of the forest with narrow winding trail surrounded by mountain laurel.


Location: 36.063809, -79.113289

Stay straight as the Brown Elfin Knob trail goes off to the left.


Location: 36.061173, -79.11404

The trail turns right and exits the forest here near a pond.


Location: 36.061416, -79.116014

The trail forks here. Go left to return to the parking lot.

The winding trail

Location: 36.061155, -79.114062

Weaving through Oaks

Location: 36.060756, -79.12125

Keep an eye out for wildlife

Location: 36.062456, -79.12522

Red paint marks the trail

Location: 36.062994, -79.125155

Resting bench with a river view

Location: 36.065145, -79.122151

Trail becomes slim along peak

Location: 36.065076, -79.120263

Breaking off from Eno River

Location: 36.065752, -79.119147

Overlook closed

Location: 36.065076, -79.118139

Gravel path to summit

Location: 36.062283, -79.120413

Heading back

Location: 36.065093, -79.116594

Last stretch of trail

Location: 36.062352, -79.113976

Trending on Backpacker