For devoted Southern Appalachian hikers, a trip to the top of Looking Glass Rock, near Brevard, N.C., is a pilgrimage of sorts.
And there are valid reasons to climb this notable summit, one of the great peaks of the South, where inspiring views await from a granite dome rising from the Davidson River valley.
From the trailhead, a well-graded path leads up a tributary of the Davidson River before scaling Looking Glass Rock using seemingly innumerable switchbacks. Rock slabs scattered in the woods tease you en route to the peak. Just after cresting out, open onto a huge stone slab, revealing incredible views of the Blue Ridge above and woodlands beyond.
It is 2.8 miles to the top. From the peak, there is only one way down, the way you came, forcing a backtrack.
Looking Glass Rock is one of the most recognizable features in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. This monolith rises nearly 2,000 feet above the surrounding forest floor to an elevation of 3,969 feet. Sheer granite walls curve around the peak on three sides, lending an unmistakable appearance.
Not only does the summit provide wonderful views of the surrounding Blue Ridge and other mountains of the greater Davidson River area, but also you should take the time to look upon Looking Glass Rock from the Blue Ridge Parkway, or from other mountains, especially from nearby John Rock or Pilot Mountain on Art Loeb Trail. Perhaps you may see the sun reflecting off the rock face that gave the Looking Glass Rock its name.
The hike is a nearly continuous climb from the trailhead to the top. However, the trail has been redone and uses enough switchbacks to make a hiker dizzy on the ascent. The switchbacks ease the gradient, making the hike very manageable. The only word of caution is to use care when along the granite slopes, since water seeps over the rock face in places. These seeps can be especially hazardous in subfreezing conditions.
A wider-than-average, hiker-only trail leads past a trailhead kiosk, then bridges a small creek. Ferns, mosses, stinging nettle and doghobble thrive under magnolia, black birch, and tulip trees. Curve along a side slope, then enter a stream shed you will be following for a while. Look for signs of old trails working more steeply up to the crest. Avoid user-created erosive shortcuts. The unnamed stream noisily drops below.
Make the first of many switchbacks at 0.5 mile. At first, the trail turns come infrequently, but the higher you rise the shorter the stretches between turns. At 0.8 mile, the Looking Glass Rock Trail leaves the stream shed and enters a drier forest of pine, black gum, sourwood, mountain laurel and Carolina hemlock. Fragrant galax lines the trailbed.
The trail reaches the nose of the ridge at 1.0 mile. Grab southerly views through the trees, where the Art Lob Trail traces the far ridge over Pilot Mountain, among other peaks. The grade remains steady.
At 1.5 miles, come along a dribbling trickle, then turn away. The steepness of the mountain has eased, however, the gradient of the trail remains the same. By 1.9 miles, a few rock slabs can be seen. At 2.1 miles, come to a wide-open rock slab on your left. Walk out here and look for the painted H on the slab. This is a helicopter landing. The main trail keeps straight beyond the open slab.
Continue on a rooty, sandy track interspersed with occasional open rock slabs. Stone and log steps aid your passage. At 2.4 miles, a short spur leads right to a large open slab. Turn northwest atop the ridgecrest. Spurs lead to campsites and harder-to-reach vistas. Top out at 2.7 miles. Begin a downgrade, still in woods. At 2.8 miles, open onto a huge sloped granite slab — the main vista.
Once atop Looking Glass Rock, craggy pines and cedars cling to crevices where soil accumulates. Water seeps over the rock in channels. The granite slope sharpens below, to an incline down which no hiker walks. Before you, the crest of the Blue Ridge rises majestically, stretching end-to-end across the horizon. Parkway overlooks are visible. Waves of mountains roll southwest. This is the most accessible open view on Looking Glass Rock, but there are other overlooks to explore, just be careful while doing it.
To get there from Johnson City, take I-26 through Asheville to Exit 40, the Asheville airport exit. From there, take NC 280 west toward Brevard. From the intersection of NC 280 and US 276 on the north side of Brevard, take US 276 north for 5.2 miles, then turn left on Forest Road 475 toward the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. Follow FR 475 for 0.3 mile and the trailhead will be on your right.