Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve in Lancaster County offers visitors one of those "on top of the world" experiences without having to brave nose-bleed heights.
The gigantic hunk of granite spans 14 acres with gently sloping sides that are easy to ascend from any direction. Standing at the crest of the rock, you can look out over the surrounding landscape where the Sandhills meet the Piedmont. It's a great view, even if the elevation gain is just 100 feet.
The 2,267-acre preserve - a National Natural Landmark - features waterslides, waterfalls, a beaver pond, caves, hardwood and pine forests, a variety of wildflowers and wildlife and some honkin' big boulders.
A five-mile out-and-back trail winds through a thick forest that's home to Prairie warblers, tanagers, woodpeckers, indigo buntings, red-tailed hawks, vireos, cottontail rabbits, gray fox and deer. Add to that, nearly a dozen rare, threatened or endangered plant species, including nodding trillium and the green violet.
Starting from the lower trailhead, you'll pass by an impressive garden of boulders that looks like they were scattered about with no plan in mind. Just past the mighty rocks is a large beaver pond covered in a blanket of lily pads.
The hike up the ascending terrain will take you to a natural overlook where you'll get a great view of the beaver lodge in the middle of the pond. You can see the dam the diligent flat-tailed critters built to create the pond from a footbridge crossing Flat Creek.
You'll cross the creek several times getting to the main attraction. The trail also takes you past a waterslide and small waterfall.
Climbing to the top of the rock has its own rewards. Along the way, you'll enjoy a colorful display of lichens, mosses and sedums that grow on the rock. When we visited the preserve in April, we were treated to a panorama of rare pool sprite blooming in water that had collected in crevices and depressions all over the rock's surface.
A few Eastern Red Cedars also have planted roots in the shallow soils over the granitic floor. One small red cedar that recently died from the drought turned out to be 200 years old.
The trail continues across the standing rock and back into the forest.
For more information or directions to Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve, click here.