Isn’t it funny how a place can be known for one thing but have so much more beneath the surface? I had heard that Uwharrie had some great hiking, camping, and paddling but it was hard to get past what Uwharrie is best known for which is a world renowned mud-slinging, off-road destination. So as I drove down Highway 109 in my Toyota Avalon with burly 16” tires, I was treated by all of the passing off-roaders like a wayward elderly person who had missed the turn for the golf course and ended up in this redneck heaven. Only the 18’ canoe I had lashed to the roof gave me man-points to salvage my pride.
Uwharrie National Forest in Troy NC has been a destination for off-roading of all sorts since it’s inception in the 1960s at the same time as Pisgah, Nantahala, and Croatoan National Forests. Situated near the Pee Dee River and home to excellent sources of rhyolite (commonly used for tool building), native American tribes had many camps and villages in the area and there are several ongoing archaeological digs. Nearby Morrow Mountain State Park showcases a quarry used for gathering the rocks as well as how they were fashioned into tools. If you don’t care about tools, but do care about river put-ins, Morrow Mountain has an excellent boat ramp for accessing the Pee Dee River.
Like most trips, departure was delayed so we arrived at Badin Lake Campground in the dark. My experiences with national forest campgrounds in the past have been between Somalia and war-torn Waffle House in terms of upkeep, cleanliness, and horrifying nature of the facilities. We had reserved a tent site which was a good idea for this day in early May; the entire campground was packed to the gills. Thankfully though, the campsites themselves were very well laid out with plenty of room between sites and all had excellent pads, grills, and tables. There are 2 loops, both an upper and a lower, and each had camp sites that were near the shores of Badin lake for fishing or kayaking (but those sites are usually reserved far in advance). After clumsily setting up the tent in the dark came the moment I had been dreading: using the campground bathroom. I personally don’t care, but my wives does and as everyone knows if she isn’t happy… and without exception, I’ve found Forest Service bathrooms are horrifying to the point of constipation. There was actually a small line waiting to get into the bathrooms which only heightened my unease: 4 single stalls taking care of 20+odd sites is a recipe for disaster. As people left the bathrooms, I heard them complaining about how dirty and infested with spiders they were which only raised my alarm further. Once it was my turn though, I opened the door to a bathroom cleaner than most gas stations and welcome centers I’d visited.
That was actually the single biggest surprise I had during my stay at Uwharrie: all of the facilities are top notch and extremely well maintained. The picnic area we hiked around the following morning is one of the nicest I’ve seen with the same great tables and grills that were in the campground and even has a nice disc golf course to boot, all on the shores of Badin Lake. With 5300 acres of water and 115 miles of shoreline, it’s a little less than half the size of Lake Wylie but with far less boat traffic and development lining the shore. We paddled for several miles after our hike and had a great time until a gusty wind of 15-20mph made our 18’ canoe start to skid across the surface of the water since it wasn’t weighed down enough; once we made it to shore, we headed back for lunch.
Back at the campground, I started building a roaring fire out of a few small pieces of firestarter and several dead branches I had dragged back to camp. Once that fire was to the point that the branches I was adding were the size of my wrist, I started adding in the charcoal and waited for nice and even white hot coals. We planned on having roasted potatoes (in tinfoil), with polish kielbasa (in tinfoil), and mixed veggies including onions, peppers, squash and zucchini (again, all in tinfoil). This worked out well till I went to flip the tinfoil and it promptly tore, and continued to do so no matter how many layers we wrapped it in. The lessons learned were to only buy name brand tinfoil for grilling in the future and also that the smell of our food falling out of the tinfoil onto the fire was enough to draw campers from 200 hundred yards away with hungry faces.
It also drew the lady camping with her daughter from the next site over. She looked at the fire I had going and seemed embarrassed to ask how exactly we got it going so well. I grabbed the small block of firestarter we had and told her to feel free to use it and she seemed grateful. As it turned out, they hadn’t been able to start a fire that morning, and since they didn’t pack a camp stove, their attempt at making pancakes turned into them eating cold pancake batter out of a bowl. Feeling extra sorry for them, they also walked away with some granola bars in addition to the fire starter.
We hiked the remainder of our time at Uwharrie and enjoyed walking through the hardwood forests and beside the lake where it was cool in the increasing heat. The gusts that had hit us while on the water kept it up through the rest of the afternoon and as dark clouds started showing up on the horizon I made the executive decision to pack up the gear and head home a day early. You can call me a fair-weather camper, but realize that the rain I avoided was the same rain that set rivers flooding and at the very least would have made me cranky when I had to break down a wet tent only to dry it out later that week when the sun finally came back out. Bailing early made me feel like I saw too little of Uwharrie and I plan on returning soon, possibly in a Jeep to explore some of the wilderness roads that my grand-pa car wasn’t able to tackle before.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.