We’ve been highlighting interesting hikes in or near Charlotte. Each one offers something special, whether it’s a view of a waterfall, an interesting rock formation, a field of wildflowers, or historical ruins. Next on the list is Historic Gold Hill.
Please note that this article was written, and the pictures were taken, in May of 2021. So some of the details might not be exactly as described, but it should be pretty close.
The Gold Hill Rail Trail offers a healthy helping of history. You can get a close-up look at many remnants of the gold mining operation that took place here.Our library of hikes
Gold was found here in the 19th century, and by the time of the Civil War, Gold Hill was one of the most significant gold and copper mining communities in North Carolina. There’s a Charlotte connection, too. Because of the gold mined in this region, a United States Mint was built in Charlotte. The Charlotte Mint produced gold coins from 1837 until it was seized by the Confederacy in 1861. Eventually it was relocated to Randolph Road to serve as an art museum, The Mint Museum.
Gold Hill, in Rowan County, is about 47 miles northeast of the center of Charlotte. It is closer for those in Cabarrus County, including China Grove, Kannapolis and Mt. Pleasant.
When you hike the Gold Hill Rail Trail, be sure to visit the Historic Village of Gold Hill. You can pick up books about the area, or a free trail map, at E.H. Montgomery General Store, 770 St. Stephens Church Road. There’s also a bakery, a restaurant, a pottery shop and more.
For the hike, you can park right across the street from E. H. Montgomery General Store.
Gold Hill Rail Trail is part of Carolina Thread Trail, and you can find the Thread Trail signs along the way to keep you on track.
Some other attractions near Gold Hill are Reed Gold Mine (20 miles away in Midland) and North Carolina Transportation Museum (16 miles away in Spencer.)
There are really two fairly distinct sections of the Gold Hill Rail Trail. There’s an out and back trail, roughly one mile long, through the woods, and there’s a trail that goes through Gold Hill Mines Historic Park and takes you past mine shafts, a powder house, a jail, an old steam engine and more.
The Out and Back Trail Through the Woods
After parking across the street from E.H. Montgomery General Store, and walk (away from the road) to the trail, if you turn right, you’ll start on the out and back trail through the woods. It’s just a bit over 1 mile each way from this point.
There are some informational signs along the way that give historical background, but they all need to be replaced, as they’re worn out and hard to read. (Note: this article was written a little while ago, so they might have been replaced.)
You’ll cross two roads, Old Beatty Ford Road and State Road 2352. Between these two crossings there is, surprisingly, a bamboo forest.
If you’re lucky, like we were, maybe you’ll find the perfect bamboo walking stick just lying on the ground.
Although this trail is rated as moderate, most of it is easy, except where it descends to a creek bed. The path crosses the creek on a simple wooden bridge, and then ascends.
Right before you get to this descent, there’s a spot where you’ll want to pay close attention to the trail markers. The road forks and if you take the left fork, instead of the right fork, which leads you down to the bridge, the trail ends abruptly, at a steep drop-off.
If you’re looking at the scene pictured above, you’re going the wrong way and you need to stop. You can see the smaller, lower path in this picture too, and that’s where you should be.
After this point, enjoy a quiet walk in the woods. Follow the Carolina Thread Trail signs to stay on the trail. You’re surrounded by private property on either side.
It’s not entirely clear where the trail ends, because at the washed out sandy area where it seems to end, there’s actually a sharp right you can take back into the woods, and and there’s still a trail marker or two there. But eventually they stop. We walked a total of about 1.05 miles from our car before we turned around.
Right at the junction between the main path and that sharp turn to the right we caught sight of a steep rocky bank with a stone wall on top, another mysterious (to us, anyway!) remnant of Gold Hill’s history as a mining town.
The Trail Through the Historical Artifacts
If you’re at the parking lot across from E. H. Montgomery General Store and you walk to the trail, turn left for the historical trail. To cover this part of the trail, up and back, including a loop, it’s a little bit over 2 miles. You’ll encounter several mine shafts, an old steam engine, an ore mill, a jail, and more.
Several of the structures are in Gold Mines Historic Park, which you’ll soon encounter. If you’re going straight to the park, it’s at 755 St. Stephen’s Church Road, Gold Hill. There’s a playground at the park, too.
The Chilean Ore Mill was used in the 19th century to crush gold bearing ore, as part of gold recovery. It was in operation in Gold Hill from 1840 to 1900, and was moved to the park in 1992. All of its original gears are still intact, and is operated on occasion during the Gold Hill Founder’s Day event.
Ever wanted to look into a mine shaft? You can walk down the steps to the Miller Mine Shaft and look right inside. Also, make sure to stand over the grate and look down. The picture below is through the bars, at the bottom of the steps.
Another interesting artifact is the Gold Hill Jail. The Gold Hill Jail and Rock Wall were built around 1845, as the town was beginning to grow. Since Gold Hill was a raucous mining community with around 26 saloons and 2000 to 3000 men working the mines, it’s not surprising that they’d need a jail on occasion. Tours are sometimes available and can be reserved at the E. H. Montgomery General Store.
At this point, cross the street. You’ll be looking at Gold Hill United Methodist Church. The trail is to your right as you’re looking at the church, but isn’t marked very clearly. It’s not the gravel road, but the smaller natural surface trail to the right of it. (Shown in the picture under the church)
One of the first structures you’ll get to once you start down this path is the Randolph Shaft, which you can walk over.
The Randolph Shaft reached 800 feet and was one of the most productive shafts in Gold Hill. When the mine shafts were in use, they required enormous pumps to drain the water, which began only 60 feet underground.
The trail passes an old steam engine and boiler that were abandoned near the Randolph Shaft.
After that, you’ll get to a loop, which you can walk either way. We went to the right and walked past a softball field, into the woods, and past a pond.
Next you’ll get to the Powder House, which was built into a hill. We’ve included a front view and a side view, so you can really see how it’s part of the hillside. It was used to store dynamite and blasting materials for the mines.
If you like ghost stories, you might like knowing that the Powder House is thought by some to be a hub of paranormal activity, and has been investigated many times by paranormal teams.
One story, told in Cabarrus Magazine, is that two miners who worked in the Randolph Mine went to the Powder House to get some dynamite. One lit the kerosene lantern at the entrance to the Powder House and the other used his pick to open the wooden crate. He hit it too hard, causing the dynamite to explode, and the pick flew up and became embedded in his chest. The other miner was thrown against the door and survived, but the man killed in the accident is said to haunt the Powder House still. Around Halloween, you can go on a ghost walk in Gold Hill, and you’ll probably hear this story and more about the Powder House.
After completing the loop and retracing your steps back to the road, make sure to visit the shops in the village.