Hiking through the Rock Formations on Holden Mill Trail at Eno River State Park

As you probably know from previous stories, I’m a big fan of a rock formations. This goes for the rock formations at Occoneechee Quarry and at Bobbitt Hole, among others And this also goes for the rock formations along Holden Mill Trail at Eno River State Park, in Durham, North Carolina, which I visited on December 24th, 2019.

map of holden mill trail

After arriving in the late afternoon at the Fews Ford access point, I found a spot in the bustling parking lot, parked, and got out of my car. Looking around, I was surprised to see so many people on the day before the biggest holiday of the year.

Joining Buckquarter Creek Trail, I started hiking north. Passing through several groups of other hikers, I was pleased to see the park receiving more notoriety than usual.

After I reached the banks of the Eno River, I stopped and looked north. Despite recent heavy rains, the sky was clear and the light was excellent, boding well for my hike. Taking several measured steps to the edge of the water, I stooped down, dodged nearby branches, and took the following photo.

fews ford on the eno river

Returning to the trail, I hiked about a quarter of a mile north past a series of cataracts and rounded a bend in the trail to my left. After another quarter of a mile or so, the trail started bending to my right, and I knew I was approaching Buckquarter Creek.

As I approached, I saw a mother taking selfies with two small kids on the opposite side of the river. Then a jogger came up, passed the mother, and crossed the bridge over Buckquarter Creek.

As soon as the traffic jam on the bridge cleared, I started to cross, then turned to the north and stopped. The light from the west was so clean and clear — even though it was filtered by branches overhead — that I had to take a photo.

buckquarter creek

Reaching the opposite end of the bridge, I waved and said hello to the mother with children and continued hiking as the trail transitioned from Buckquarter Creek Trail to Holden Mill Trail.

Before reaching the first of the rock formations along Holden Mill Trail, I noticed a log from a deadfall floating lazily in the river. Looking back to the east, I was speechless. There was a view I had never seen before, despite many hikes along this stretch of the river, and it was breathtaking.

Pulling out my phone, I balanced on the log, found the best angle, and took the following photo.

eno river facing east

Returning to the trail, I was greeted by a handful of other hikers, who nodded and said hello as we passed each other going in opposite directions.

Then, up ahead, I noticed the first of the many granite and schist rock formations that I mentioned earlier. Though they look rather diminutive in the following photo, they’re actually quite formidable, standing taller than a grown man in most cases.

gateway rock formations

As I passed through these rock formations — which bore a striking resemblance to a monumental gateway leading to a neolithic site — I realized the only way to appreciate the full sensory experience of them was to get a video.

So I retraced my steps, pulled out my phone, and started filming. After negotiating my way over roots and stones that seemed intent on tripping me with every step, I managed to get the following one-minute video.

Resuming my westward hike, I noticed that the sun was rapidly approaching the horizon, limiting the availability of good light, especially at this point on the trail, where steep hills rise on either side of the Eno River. Increasing my pace, I came to the next group of rock formations — which unfortunately has no name that I’ve been able to find on any map of the park.

Pulling out my phone, I took the following one-minute video, with a panorama to give a sense of the scope of the site.

At the west end of the site, I noticed one of my favorite rock formations, which is mostly a composite of schist and shale as far as I can tell. The distinctive shape of it always reminds me of the prow of a ship, rising out of the earth and seemingly ready to embark on her maiden voyage.

ship's prow rock formation

After admiring it for a few minutes, I returned to Holden Mill Trail and continued my westward hike.

Then, less than a tenth of a mile from the previous group of rock formations, I came to another one, which may be the biggest of them all. It’s somewhat recessed and covered up with trees and branches, but it’s still pretty amazing.

Deciding that a short video would do more justice to it than a photo, I pulled out my phone, made my way slightly off-trail, and started filming.

Standing under the immensity of several tons of granite and schist, I was both humbled and inspired by the power of nature.

Returning to Holden Mill Trail, I kept hiking west until I passed the last of the rock formations. Then the trail veered to my right, and I started following it. Looking to my left, I noticed Tranquility Creek, full to bursting from recent rains.

Stepping off-trail, I found solid footing on a rocky outcropping in the middle of the creek, stooped down, and took the following photo.

serenity creek

Rising to my feet, I returned to Holden Mill Trail and started hiking up and away from the Eno River on the return leg of the loop.

Before long, I came to a clear cut for power lines. Though these power lines are usually an eyesore and certainly do no favors for the land, they do occasionally make a striking photographic subject — which you can see in the following photo.

power line near eno river

Returning to my hike, I covered another mile or so through leafless forest — which didn’t have many good points of photographic interest — and returned to Buckquarter Creek Trail. Then I hiked another half a mile, rounding my way past cataracts and several groups of eager hikers. Finally I passed Fews Ford and took a wistful glimpse back before returning to my car and driving home.

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14 thoughts on “Hiking through the Rock Formations on Holden Mill Trail at Eno River State Park

    1. Thank you, Jade. I know just what you mean. Nothing makes my day quite so much as stumbling on a massive monolith sitting in the wilderness, seemingly unexplored and unknown by humanity–a reminder of nature’s power and mystery.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Enjoyed your photo and videos. The landscape in your area reminds me so much of Arkansas. We have a lot of beautiful woods and countryside to explore in our state too.


    1. My maternal grandparents used to live in Arkansas, and my paternal grandparents used to live southewestern Missouri, not for from the Ozarks. So that may be part of the reason for my fondness for mountain landscapes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Ozarks are beautiful. My parents lived in Missouri when I was born, but I was raised in the Western U.S. – mostly in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The country out there is beautiful.


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