Looking Glass Rock Hike (NC)
Looking Glass Rock is a short 3.2 mile hike (6.4 round trip) located in the Pisgah National Forest just outside Asheville, North Carolina. This hike has an elevation gain of just over 1,600 feet and the summit sits just under 4,000 feet with an elevation of 3,970 feet. It is one of many hikes a person can take in the area. I made this hike on March 9th, 2018 and it was my first hike of the year.
For this hike, I had planned to do Point Misery, Little Butt and Big Butt Mountains, but there was some washout on the Blue Ridge Parkway just to the north of Asheville, so I ran into some barricades and had to pull an audible.
I drove back into town, planning to head back west where the road had some serious elevation and look for a trailhead. I came across a sign for the National Forestry Offices and took it to head over and get some suggestions. While there, some of the nice people had a handout with information on Pisgah. From Asheville to the trailhead was about a forty minute drive, but it was in the direction I needed to go after hiking, so it fit just right.
I made my way to the entrance to Pisgah National Forest and stopped by the Ranger Station that was only a few miles in on the right. I spoke to a guy named Chris, told him I was looking for a quick hike, but that I wanted to summit something. He gave me two suggestions and the accompanying fliers for Looking Glass Rock and John Rock.
They had a photo of Looking Glass Rock on the wall behind them and that sold me, although he mentioned that John Rock had views that overlooked the hike I was planning to take. So, that was tempting to get the views of Looking Glass Rock as opposed to hiking up it.
I hopped in the car, made the quick drive up the road to the trailhead, and was on trail by 9:45 in the morning. The temperature when I began was 35 degrees.
From Asheville, NC, take I-240 west to I-26 east to the exit for the Asheville Airport (exit 40). Turn right onto NC 280; follow this 4-lane highway for 16 miles toward Brevard. At the intersection with US highways 276 and 64, turn right onto US 276 west (follow signs for Pisgah National Forest). Follow US 276 for 5.2 miles; turn left onto FR 475. The trailhead parking area is on the right after 0.4 miles.
The trail starts by heading up a few well-spaced wooden steps and then getting onto a very well-marked and open trail. The first few miles of the hike was clear trail and switchbacks as it zigzagged its way up the mountain. The trail wasn't very steep in the section, just moderate.
Using a fitbit charge as a tracker, there were a few markers in this area I kept track of to help the would-be hiker know where they were in terms of distance. There was a lookout to a small waterfall at 1.47 miles and a large uprooted tree on the left at about 1.77 miles.
As we got closer to the top, there was an open-faced stone section at 2.44 miles. It was mildly deceptive because the trail veered off to the right, but someone had painted yellow trail markers on the ground on the stone. After venturing across it and noticing a downward trend, I came to the conclusion that this was simply a secondary way up to the summit instead of the main trail and turned back around.
At 2.75 miles, the trail had a dangerous spot. Some water runoff had frozen all across the main section of the trail as it gained some steepness and the footing was a little tricky here.
After that, the trail turned into a thinner creek bed with the same increase in steepness. I found myself huffing and puffing a bit in this section and took a few quick rest breaks to grab some water. There were also some bigger rocks and lots of roots all across the trail, but still easily managed and family friendly.
The summit is a campsite with a small sign nailed to one of the trees. It doesn't have any marking saying, 'You're here!' other than that sign. The trail for the views continues through the camp, with about two-tenths of a mile of moderate descent. It opens up to an open face view of some higher mountains and a nice deep ravine between Looking Glass Rock and the peaks beyond.
The whole hike took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the summit and past to the point where there were views.
I headed back at 11:07 a.m. and ran into a lot of people on the way back. The hike was in mid-March, so it was during Spring Break for college-aged people and there are a bunch of colleges in the area. I passed a bunch of young people out on a day hike.
I made sure to be careful on the upper section, but had multiple instances of foot slippage on some loose mud on the way down. The melting snow made it damp, but not super muddy, so footing was something you had to be aware of on the way down.
I stopped to take some fun photos of trail markers on the way back and sent some texts to my usual hiking buddy before reaching the trail entrance at around 12:15 p.m.
All in all, this was a fun and simple hike with some excellent views from the backside of the mountain. It was very family-friendly and doesn't require any technical skills or equipment. The whole hike took about two and a half hours and was a perfect way to stretch out the legs after a long drive the day before in passing through on my way to Florida for work.