On the southwestern side of Catawba County, in Hickory, North Carolina, a conspicuous feature rises above the horizon: a prominent mountain standing guard over the area, marking the county’s highest point and offering a perfect spot for recreation.
At 1,780 feet above sea level, Bakers Mountain has been a well-known Catawba County destination for centuries. Named after the Baker family who settled in its shadow in the late 1700s, the mountain has served as a hideout for the Tories during the American Revolutionary War, a site for family picnics, church outings and religious pilgrimages, a playground for local youngsters, and a retreat for its visitors.
In the early 1900s, area picnickers and local church groups would gather at the private land of Calvin Baker at the base of the mountain. Of note was the First Baptist Sunday School annual picnic, an all-day event held each July attracting a turnout of over 200. With the mountain towering above the beautiful property adorned with exotic lily ponds, the spot was an idyllic setting. A trek up Bakers Mountain for the awe-inspiring view was a customary adventure at these historic events.
In 2005, the mountainside was transformed into Bakers Mountain Park: a 189-acre hiker’s haven operated as part of the Catawba County Park System. The park’s nearly six miles of trails still contain clues to its history, with remnants of turn-of-the-century home sites that can be spotted along the way.
Area resident Tom Abernathy has been coming to Bakers Mountain since he was a teenager. “We used to ride our bikes up from Mountain Grove Church and coast back down, and we just loved coming here,” Abernathy said. “People would hike up at night for the gorgeous view. Local churches would hold Easter sunrise service on the eastern slope of the mountain, leading a procession up the long 17-curve road which they have since straightened out.”
Today, park visitors can hike to the top of the mountain and take in expansive views of Hickory and the Catawba Valley from the park’s observation platform. On a clear day, one can even see as far as Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell. The view from the platform is especially popular in autumn thanks to the stunning fall colors that cascade across the valley’s foothills.
The variety of habitats and wildlife at Bakers Mountain provide a unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the Western North Carolina foothills. Rare plants and a mixed hardwood forest comprised primarily of Chestnut Oak and Mountain Laurel make the park a refreshingly different recreation opportunity than can be found at lower elevations, as well as a great place for nature photography.
The trail system’s steep climbs, which rise 640 feet from base to top, make Bakers Mountain Park a favorite training spot for trail runners, fitness enthusiasts, and hikers aiming to tackle the Appalachian Trail. The park also features a gently sloping, paved quarter-mile ADA accessible trail with a Story Walk feature for kids. The park’s gently flowing stream, natural boulder outcroppings, clearings, picnic tables, and plenty of trailside benches provide plenty of ways to explore the mountain.
At 85 years young, Tom Abernathy still visits the mountain six days a week. “I’ve probably been up here more than anybody. I do enjoy coming; it’s just a beautiful place and there is so much to see.”
Bakers Mountain Park, located at 6680 Bakers Mountain Rd. in Hickory, is currently open seven days a week from 8am – 5pm (hours vary seasonally). It is one of four parks in the Catawba County Park System, which also includes Mountain Creek Park in Sherrills Ford, Riverbend Park in Conover and St. Stephens Park in Hickory. For more information about Bakers Mountain Park and the Catawba County Park System, visit www.catawbacountyparks.org or follow Catawba County Parks on Facebook and Instagram.