The Uwharrie National Forest quietly awaits your visit. The Uwharrie is a lush wood, located in south central North Carolina. The Uwharrie is the smallest and newest of North Carolina’s four national forests.
The Uwharrie is located near the site of the United States’ first gold rush in 1799. Many mines can still be found in the Park’s 50,000+ acres. Even today, some park visitors will pan for gold in the rivers that pass through the National Forest.
The Uwharrie River runs through the middle of the park, as does the Uwharrie Mountain range. Mountains in this region are ancient and heavily eroded. The greatest altitude of the various ranges remains unknown, although they were likely towering peaks at one point, some speculating 20,000 feet.
Today though, the Uwharries round out at closer to 1000 feet in altitude. Despite the more rolling and diminutive stature, many sections of the range are quite rugged and offer alpine experiences to backpackers and travellers.
Where in Uwharrie Should I Go?
Although the Uwharrie National Forest is not a large park by United States national park standards, it isn’t small, and there are many different areas to visit. Which area you choose hinges on what most interests you in terms of visiting and enjoying the park.
The National Forest headquarters in Troy, NC may be a good place to kick off your visit. There you will find the ranger district office. It is located here: Uwharrie Ranger District Office, 789 NC Highway 24/27 East, Troy, NC 27371.
The Ranger’s office can provide maps, licenses, permits, wayfinding, brochures and camping information. Camping is allowed nearly everywhere in the forest. Only areas specifically posted with “No Camping” signage are restricted.
Get the Lay of the Land at the Uwharrie National Forest
The Uwharrie National Forest is part of a parcel of land purchased in 1931 by the U.S. government from farmers. It was not made a national forest until 1961, by President John F. Kennedy. In those intervening 30 years, some sections of the forest were clear cut. They have since regrown and the biodiversity of the park continues to be enriched. The forest is again a thick wood.
Water figures largely in the Uwharrie. Rivers and lakes abound, some of them sizeable. The Uwharrie National Forest is bordered to the west by the Yadkin and Great Pee Dee Rivers as well lakes Tillery and Badin.
The Uwharrie range runs through the center of the forest, as does the Uwharrie River. Pine trees, wildflowers and hardwood make up the lush flora and fauna of the Uwharrie National Forest.
Land of Many Uses
The slogan of the Uwharrie National Forest hints at the great variety of activities that take place there. The Uwharrie offers the following:
- Hiking / Trail Running
- Hunting / Shooting
- Water Sports / Water Activities
- Mountain Biking
- Horseback Riding
- ATV / Dirt Bike / Off-road Vehicle
The hiking should go without saying -- 50,000 acres is a giant playground for intrepid outdoor lovers. The Uwharrie National Recreation trail is chief among these -- offering 20 miles of trails and adjoining systems to the bandy-legged hiker. The Recreation Trail is marked with white blazes.
Additionally, the forest offers 60 miles of mountain biking trails (including the Wood Run Mountain Bike Trail system), 40 miles of horseback trails, a shooting range, seasonal hunting and fishing, and 17 miles of trails specifically for Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs).
There is a rich offering for every interest and type of outdoor adventurer!
Top 7 Activities in the Uwharrie National Forest
1. Off-road Vehicle use. The Badin Lake Recreational Area is the most popular area for OHV and other motor-vehicle recreation. The Uwharrie is said to have some of the best OHV trails in the country. Trail passes are required and can be purchased for daily use ($5) or seasonal use ($30). The season runs from April to December.
There are many trails that run a variety of distances and difficulties, from easy to extremely difficult. Regardless of your vehicle and skill level, there are trails for you here.
2. Horseback Riding. There are three horse camps in the Uwharrie National Forest, and more than 25 named horseback riding trails that cover 40 miles. As with many of the activities the park is designed to accommodate, there are trails that range in difficulty from easy to difficult. They are color coded and distances are marked at trailheads. These trail systems also center on the Badin Lake Recreational Area.
3. Mountain Biking. Two separate trails systems can be utilized in the park. The Wood Run system starts close to the city of Troy. This system features longer trails that range in difficulty, and most are marked with double blazes. The full system boasts 22 miles of trails.Alternatively, the Badin Lake Rec Area feature a host of shared, named trails. Riders will encounter other trails users, running, hiking and on horseback.
4. Hunting. Hunters looking for trophy deer and wild turkeys enjoy some of the most prime hunting territories that North Carolina has to offer in the national forest. The Uwharrie National Forest is designated as Game Land and is managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. A basic hunting license is required, as is a Game Land Privilege license. For information on hunting and fishing regulations click here.There is also a shooting range that features 25- and 100- yard ranges. Passes are available for daily ($5) and seasonal ($30) use, from April 1st - December 15th. Passes can be obtained in Troy or nearby Mt. Gilead.
5. Hiking. The hiking trail is plentiful and offered all over the park. The most organized trails again fall into the Badin Lake Rec Area -- these are the shared trails mentioned above for horseback and mountain bike use.
If you are looking to level up your trail experience, the “Uwharrie Mountain Run” might be right up your alley. The race is in its 19th year and features 8, 20, and 40 miles distances. The race is held in February.
Further detailed information on hiking and running can be obtained from the Montgomery County Visitor’s Center in Troy. Contact info: Visitors' Office 215 N. Main, Troy NC 27371 or 910-572-4300.
6. Camping. There is almost too much to say about the camping offerings. Camping in the national forest is as ubiquitous as hiking. There are areas for group camping, RV camping, campground camping, and more rural camping at many hike-in locations. Dispersed camping areas are available on a first come, first serve basis.RV sites and campground sites will vary in the amenities offered and reservation need / process. See the USDA website for details on camping here.
7. Water Activities. Both motorized and non-motorized boating are allowed in the park. Swimming is also possible in all areas where boating is permitted. All designated swimming and boating areas are located within the Badin Lake Recreation Area.
As we mentioned above, some visitors even take time to pan for gold -- in serious attempts, or just as a novelty! See if you find gold in these here hills!
Many trails in the Uwharrie National Forest close over the winter. Badin Lake Recreational Center OHV trails close from mid-December to April 1st.
As it is a national park, weather and wildlife are prime concerns for the park management. As a result, alerts, warnings, and closures should be referenced before visiting. Climbing areas may be closed to protect rare falcons that nest in the park, river bypasses will open and close depending on storm activity, and trails and campgrounds are subject to the same weather damages.
The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service website will be a useful reference for up-to-date information.
The Gold and Green Gem of North Carolina
The Uwharrie National Forest is many things to its many visitors. It can satisfy the need for quiet solitude that only a forest can provide, and it offers rugged trails for high-powered off-road vehicles and adventure seekers. In between, you’ll find plentiful lakes and rivers, a beautiful natural landscape for hikers, bikers, horseback riders and even runners.
The Uwharrie is well worth a visit to North Carolina. In those 50,000 acres, the forested park caters to nearly every outdoor passion.
Its place in the history of the state and the park system are well-earned. You’ll come for one activity and be romanced by the diverse options!