Purgatory Mountain Asheboro, NC – Hiking Trail at NC Zoo

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Note: This is another of my family’s Year of Experiences

While checking out the NC Zoo website recently, I discovered a free hiking trail on zoo property up Purgatory Mountain. On a recent Sunday, we decided to make a family trip of it with lunch afterwards.

It was a beautiful day for a trip to the NC Zoo in Asheboro. High temps were predicted to be in the mid to upper 80s so we packed some bottled water and a few protein bars along the way. If you know my crew, we get hangry. And when we do, it’s best to have something to eat around.

Directions to Purgatory Mountain Trail at NC Zoo

It took us a few minutes to find the trail head for some reason. But, the map below will take you right to the trail head. Use this Google Map to get to Purgatory Mountain trail head faster than we did.

You’ll find the trail head by entering NC Zoo at the main entrance off Zoo Parkway. Then, make a left just after the gate/fence.

Some pictures of the area near the trail head follow.

The trail head is the right in this picture. Looking towards the entrance to the NC Zoo.
The trail head entrance is to the right in this picture. The entrance road into the NC Zoo is just around this curve (looking towards the NC Zoo entrance road).


This photo is what is to the right of the trailhead entrance.
This photo is what is to the right of the trail head entrance. (Looking away from the trail head entrance & NC Zoo entrance road. On the other side of those trees to the right are the NC Zoo office building and the North American plaza.)

After we parked and secured our car we set out to hike the trail.

One note before you start out: This trail is not monitored or patrolled by Zoo staff.

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So, if you get in trouble be sure to call 911. The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office responds to calls “on the mountain”.

Hiking Purgatory Mountain Trail

Sign at the trail head for Purgatory Mountain
Sign at the trail head for Purgatory Mountain

Starting off at the trail head we paused for an obligatory family selfie…

Picture of family in front of Purgatory Trail sign.
Me & my crew before setting out on Purgatory Trail.


The first 1/8 of a mile is designated as wheelchair accessible. This part of the path is crushed gravel that makes for very some easy hiking. Not sure what this would be like when wet, though.

One downside this time of year were the tiny spiderwebs cast throughout the trail. Nothing huge, mind you, just the occasional strand of web. Was a little annoying. What trailblazers we were breaking through spiderwebs!


Rob Ainbinder on Purgatory Mountain Trail
Your intrepid author pauses for a moment to take a picture along the trail.


The trail is well marked, just keep any eye out for the markers.. like this one.

Purgatory Mountain trail marker
A trail marker on the Purgatory trail.

Gravel is laid for most of the distance. The trail transitions from some crushed gravel to some coarser gravel. In some areas where it’s very rocky, there is no gravel.

people hiking Purgatory Trail
My ladies make their way up the Purgatory Trail.

The trail is covered by a good canopy of trees. On this day, it provided some great shade which made hiking in the elevated temperatures a lot easier.

Picture of hiking trail at NC Zoo's Purgatory Mountain
Fairly typical section of Purgatory Trail.


After negotiating a more vertical part of the trail, we reached the top of the mountain…

View from the Top of Purgatory Mountain

I shot this panorama at the top Purgatory Mountain. The signage indicates that there will be an observation tower in the future. With a full canopy of trees this time of year, it’s nearly impossible to see down the mountain.

After some time at the top is was time to head back down the mountain.

On part of the trail you cross a NC Zoo service road. There is a marked crosswalk. My kid is such the jaywalker.

Where to Picnic After a Hike on Purgatory Mountain

There are a few places to picnic at the Zoo. We decided on the Solar Point Picnic shelter. When it’s not otherwise being used for events, there is a huge amount of covered picnic tables. Also some nearby restrooms.

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While at Solar Pointe for our picnic lunch, I shot this panoramic 360 degree photo of the area.

Panoramic 360 View of Solar Pointe Picnic Shelter at NC Zoo

What to Bring When Hiking the Purgatory Mountain Trail at NC Zoo?

Depending on the time of year and temperature you may want to bring or, use the following:

  • Insect repellent – (the trail is shady during the Spring and Summer and is home to all types of native insects) if you are adverse to the typical woodland insects where a little “bug spray”.
  • Sturdy shoes/sneakers – for the marked “easy” trail you can get away with wearing sneakers. Hiking shoes will make getting around the loose rock further up the trail a bit easier and naviating occasionally wetter, low spots a bit easier.
  • Water – always a good idea to stay hydrated when outside.
  • Rain poncho/sweater/jacket – Check the weather before heading up the mountian

How Easy/Difficult is Purgatory Mountain Trail at NC Zoo?

The first portion of the trail is very easy. The latter half, where you ascend the mountain, is slightly more challenging. As you ascend, the trail becomes more rocky.

How Long is Purgatory Mountain Trail at NC Zoo?

Purgatory Mountain Trail is 1 mile long each way. So, a round trip of the current trail to the top of the mountain is 2 miles total. According to signage, future plans call for longer trails making a loop around the mountain.

How Did Purgatory Mountain in Asheboro, NC Get It’s Name?

Signage on the trail and some internet research form a picture of life during Prohibition in Randolph County, NC. Far from busier cities and they eyes of law enforcement to the north and west, a number of stills popped up on the uninhabited mountain. Fires were needed for distilling and as these burned long into the night, the mountain took on an ominous look. Purgatory was an easy label for this hellish looking mountain.

Have you hiked Purgatory Mountain? Share your experiences below.


4 Responses

  1. This was very helpful! I couldn’t find anything but the vaguest information about the trail on the zoo’s website, but this post came to my rescue!

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