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

Trail passing through rock formations

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. 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 at Eno River State Park

After arriving in the late afternoon at the Fews Ford Access (6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC 27705), 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.

Soon I joined Buckquarter Creek Trail and came to the banks of the Eno River, where I stopped and looked north.

Fews Ford on the Eno River in winter

Despite recent heavy rains, the sky was clear and the light was even, boding well for my hike. Taking several measured steps to the edge of the water, I stooped down, dodged nearby branches, and admired the scene.

Returning to the trail, I hiked a quarter mile north past a series of cataracts and rounded a bend in the trail. After another quarter mile, the trail started bending to my right, and a wooden footbridge came into view. As I approached, I saw a mother taking selfies with two small kids on the opposite side. Then a jogger came up, passed the mother, and crossed the bridge.

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 of Buckquarter Creek, which the footbridge crosses.

Buckquarter Creek in winter

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 in winter

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 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.

Large boulders surrounding trail in winter

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 a short video with a panorama to give a sense of the scope of the site.

At the west end, I noticed one of my favorite rock formations. 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.

Large yellow 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. Looking to my left as I rounded the bend, I noticed Tranquility Creek, full to bursting from recent rains.

Creek near Holden Mill with fallen leaves

Quickly passing, I was soon hiking up and away from the Eno River on the return leg of the trail.

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.

Large power line in clearcut

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.


14 thoughts on “Hiking through 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.

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  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.

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    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.

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      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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