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Hike Shining Rock in North Carolina and Find Blueberries!

Cynthia is a digital marketer, writer, and artist. She writes about a variety of topics, especially digital marketing, languages & culture.

Shining Rock

Shining Rock

About Shining Rock Wilderness

If you’re looking for a longer day-hike to do in western North Carolina, you might consider hiking to Shining Rock. With breathtaking views, wonderful treasures of plants and interesting formations, this hike is for anyone looking for an interesting adventure.

Shining Rock is located in the Shining Rock Wilderness in the western portion of the state. Congress began designating national wilderness systems in 1964 and Shining Rock Wilderness was designated that year. In 1984, its area was expanded from 13,600 to 18,483 acres with the passing of the North Carolina Wilderness Act. Its area ranges in elevation from 3,200 feet to 6,030 feet at Cold Mountain.

Yes, Cold Mountain is part of this wilderness. I am going to climb that mountain on a future trip, but for now, I’ll delve into my adventure to Shining Rock.

If you hike the trail, the most traveled route is via the Art Loeb trail. You’ll pass four peaks: Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, Grassy Cove Top, and Flower Knob. You’ll have several options as to how you ultimately will do this out and back loop, but you’ll love the views and the unusual rock formation that makes up Shining Rock.

The view from Tennent Mountain.

The view from Tennent Mountain.

Getting to the Art Loeb Trail

From Asheville, access the Blue Ridge Parkway off of Highway 181. Travel south until you get to milepost 420.

You’ll turn right onto a small access road (816), where you can park at the Art Loeb trailhead. You can also access the trail coming from NC 215, turn north onto the parkway and turn left onto the access road just before milepost 420.

The trail also intersects the Mountains to Sea Trail; you want to stay on the Art Loeb trail.

Art Loeb Trail sign.

Art Loeb Trail sign.

Before You Hike

Before heading out, make sure you have a map, preferably a topographical one. The trail is fairly clear, but there are lots of smaller trails that intersect with Art Loeb. There are many lead-offs to campsites that exist, plus parts of the trail can get overgrown.

A map is a sure bet to staying on the right path.

When I went on this trail, I was really glad I had one with me because even though there are signs, they aren’t always right where the trail forks off or where you really need to be going.

Check that you have the Ten Essentials—things like a compass, pocketknife, a first-aid kit, plenty of water, sunblock, and more are critical for a good and safe experience. Again, I packed all these and was glad I did. I got turned around a bit on the trail and was able to use my map and compass reliably to help guide my way.

Wear really good hiking shoes. There are lots of rocks at times on the trail; a good sturdy shoe can help prevent an ankle twist.

On cooler days, plan for about two quarts of water per person at a minimum. Hotter days require at least three quarts of water per person. Water is not that plentiful on this trail, so make sure you have plenty of it. I also suggest bringing water tablets or a water filter (especially one that filters for the bacteria giardia) to help replenish your supply.

The view from atop Black Balsam.

The view from atop Black Balsam.

The Hike to Shining Rock Wilderness

Hiking to Shining Rock is about 4.3 miles from the Art Loeb trailhead. As you begin to hike, you quickly gain altitude. If you look around at the first ledge of rocks (but not yet at the top of Black Balsam), you can see the Blue Ridge Parkway.

You’ll keep climbing until you get to Black Balsam Knob at 6,214 feet in elevation. You can look in every direction and see beautiful blue mountains everywhere. Surprisingly, there are not very many trees at all. I didn’t anticipate this—usually, trails in North Carolina are lush with trees.

The Art Loeb trail proves to be a beautiful one. The trail was named for this man who was a conservationist and loved this wilderness.

Keep heading north toward Tennent Mountain. You’ll descend Black Balsam Knob, but not that much. As you head down, you’ll find a pleasant surprise in the summertime: blueberry bushes.

I had no idea until I decided to hike this trail it was known for its blueberries and that people from all over come up to pick the blueberries in August when most of them are fully ripe. I sampled some ripe berries myself (of course, before you ever sample any wild berry, make 100% sure you have positively identified it).

Another view on top of Tennent Mountain.  Clouds were building for an afternoon rain storm.

Another view on top of Tennent Mountain. Clouds were building for an afternoon rain storm.

Tennent Mountain

As I ascended Tennent Mountain, the skies began to get cloudy though this provided some interesting imagery of Pisgah National Forest.

I rested at the top—elevation of 6,040 feet. The mountain was named for a doctor who helped to establish hiking trails in the area.

As I began to descend, I noticed a lot more mountain laurel and other bush varieties of plants growing. We also saw wildflowers and a number of campsites.

One group of campers had a surprising experience: an encounter with bears. They even carved their experience into a stump.

Now, I must say that if you’re hiking in the wilderness, you should expect to see wildlife. It’s their wilderness, too. If you’re going to camp, it’s a good idea—and the law in many places—to use bear-proof canisters for your food.

Also, it’s good to familiarize yourself with what to do if you see bears and other wildlife in the area. They need to survive, too, and we share the planet with them. It’s our responsibility as hikers to respect these animals so that we all can have good experiences.

Using bear canisters could have helped these people.  Wildlife encounters are common in the wilderness.

Using bear canisters could have helped these people. Wildlife encounters are common in the wilderness.

Grassy Cove Top. If you look closely, you can see Art Loeb Trail, though I recommend taking Trail 101 and skirting around the mountain.  The mountain laurel is really thick - at least in mid-summer.

Grassy Cove Top. If you look closely, you can see Art Loeb Trail, though I recommend taking Trail 101 and skirting around the mountain. The mountain laurel is really thick - at least in mid-summer.

Grassy Cove Top

I began to see more and more trees; our elevation was now below 6,000 feet. As we approached this third peak, the Art Loeb trail intersected with an old road and Trail 101. At this point, the Art Loeb trail was difficult to see. We elected to skirt Grassy Cove Top, and instead of ascending this peak, we took the wider trail—Trail 101. It runs along Shining Rock Ledge and was level and wide—a welcome respite after climbing two peaks.

It was a little over a mile long and intersected with Shining Rock Gap Trail to the north. You’ll want to bear right and hike until you come to the intersection for the Art Loeb trail. In mid-summer, the presence of the electric magenta-colored wild phlox is a great trail marker.

Here’s where you have to be careful. At this intersection, other trails branch out. You want to head north on Art Loeb, but Shining Rock sort of “sneaks up” on you very quickly—within about 0.2 of a mile.

It’s not marked, so it’s important to be vigilant—it’s easy to end up on another trail. If you are on a trail and start “descending,” you’ll know that you need to backtrack.

Shining Rock

You’ll know Shining Rock is close when you start seeing beautiful rocky “chunks” of snow quartz. It’s strikingly bright—almost unnatural-looking. Then, as you walk, a very large rock wall greets you. My first thought was, “is that it?” The rock face is flanked by lots of trees and looks unassuming until you see all the bright white rocks lying all around. The best way to get to the top is to “skirt” the rock face and go east/northeast up along the unmarked trail.

Be prepared to do a little “rock climbing.” It's not true rock climbing, but there are some large ledges you’ll need to ascend to get to the top. My dog was with us on this trail, and we had to lift him up onto some of the rocks.

Once you get to the top, though, you feel like you’re on “rock snow.” Surrounded by the forest, this one bright spot of snow quartz makes you feel like you’re on a cloud.

As you descend, watch your footing. It can get quite steep!

Heading Back

Once you get back to the Art Loeb trail, you have a choice. You can stay on the trail or go back on Trail 101. Personally, I would recommend going back on 101.

We went back on the Art Loeb trail to go over Flower Knob. Almost as soon as we passed the intersection with Shining Rock Gap and the other two trails, we happened upon water. We filtered some of the beautiful stream water—yes, giardia is present and it’s nasty if you get it—and replenished our water supply.

If you want, it's easy to walk down on Art Loeb trail to the stream to replenish your water supply. You just have to backtrack a bit to get back to Trail 101.

We started ascending Flower Knob, and it was easy enough. However, the trail quickly became quite overgrown. I love rain, and the sky opened up and sprinkled us with a refreshing shower; however, it made all the bushes quite wet and the rocks slippery, so it was slow-going.

We stayed high up on the ridge to also cross over Grassy Cove Top. The trail remained overgrown all the way down until we reached the southern intersection with Trail 101. In hindsight, we would have made much more progress had we come back on Trail 101 and went around Flower Knob.

At the intersection, you also have another option: you can continue on 101 to take you back to a parking lot at the end of the original access road (816) you parked on, or you can stay on Art Loeb. You’ll still have two more peaks you can summit if you stay on Art Loeb: Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob.

It’s a little less arduous to take Trail 101 as you don’t go over mountain peaks. If you’re tired, this is a great way to go back—you still get incredible views, it’s relatively level, and it’s a little shorter and easier on the knees and feet.

Whichever way you choose, this trail will demand fitness and endurance. The payoff is Shining Rock and all the awesome views on the way there and back.

The trail is about 8.6 miles roundtrip and I would plan for about 7-8 hours, depending on how fast you walk, how many breaks you need, the time of day, and your group's energy levels. It’s a fun hike, but it’s also great to be prepared.

© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun


Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 23, 2012:

EP - WOW! So cool. It's a small world, isn't it? I love the quaint town of Manitou and get to see it about twice yearly. My parents are getting older, so I try to make it home at least a couple times a year - which is why I don't do much traveling elsewhere at the moment. Traveling gets expensive! LOL. I really, really want to see that movie. I studied Spanish, too, so I know it'll bring back incredible memories of my time in Spain. :)

Gary R. Smith from the Head to the Heart on September 22, 2012:

Wow, that's quite interesting. Manitou Springs has a very special place in my memory. Dad was a wildlife biologist and we lived for a time in a cabin at the Manitou Forest Experimental Station. I was under 5 years old. Later, Dad and I stopped in Manitou Springs on the way back to the forest. And later yet, I tried to re-capture the memory by visiting the town for that purpose. The movie is well worthwhile. Here's a little from the YouTube trailer just found:

"Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James.

"Driven by his profound sadness and desire to understand his son better, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage, leaving his "California bubble life" behind...."

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 22, 2012:

EP - I grew up in Colorado Springs (Manitou Springs, actually), and now live in the Appalachians. I love having lived in both sets of mountains. That's so cool about your flying adventures. I'm SURE the Baltic Sea has an incredible beauty - I'm envious in that I wish I could see it - right now! LOL. Yes, the Camino has been on my to-do list for 10 years. One day I'll make it over and do it. :) I need to check out that movie with Martin Sheen.

Gary R. Smith from the Head to the Heart on September 22, 2012:

Hi CC, I 'grew up' in Fort Collins, north of Denver. And you? Also lived 18 years in Atlanta, and always enjoyed driving into the Appalacians. Have a great memory of flying in a small plane from Atlanta to Asheville with my Dad. It was a rented plane and on the return it was getting dark. He was not instrument rated, and getting a little anxious as there were no runway lights as we approached. He couldn't make radio contact with the tower. Just in the nick of time, another plane landed ahead of us, and the runway lit up, enabling us to return safely from the trip to Asheville.

The area of the Baltic sea does have a beauty of its own. We may return to southern Germany and the alps before the end of the year.

El Camino is high on my interests also. Did you see the movie with Martin Sheen?

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 22, 2012:

Emanate Presence - I so agree! Growing up in Colorado, I compared everything to the beauty of the Rockies when I first moved away. Now, I have come to love and appreciate the Appalachians. I hope someday I'll get to see the Baltics and even walk the Camino de Santiago. :)

Gary R. Smith from the Head to the Heart on September 21, 2012:

Nice presentation of the mountains and hike. Like you and other commenters, I have lived both in Colorado and the southeast. Have good memories of both for hiking. Also, Kulshan (Mount Baker) in northern Washington state. Where I am now, near the Baltic in Germany, there is more bicycling than hiking. Each place has its own beauty when we have eyes to appreciate.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 24, 2012:

Peg - Thank you so much! I'm a "transplant" but I continue to be transfixed by the beauty of this place. :)

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on August 24, 2012:

Gorgeous scenery and interesting commentary. My sister lives just outside of Charlotte.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 07, 2012:

Deborah - really!? You're from Charlotte? That's great! I moved here from Colorado and I have fallen in love with it. I can't imagine living anywhere else - at least for now, hehe. Thanks for stopping by!

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on August 06, 2012:

Asheville is awesome I love to stop at the farmers market there on my way to charlotte.. I know you are enjoying North Carolina...



Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 03, 2012:

Tillsontitan - the comment that MADE MY DAY! Thank you so much!! I am getting so much into this photo stuff, I did start a blog about it. I might have to do a hub write-up about it. :) Thanks again to you - many hugs!

Mary Craig from New York on August 02, 2012:

Breathtaking! I absolutely loved this especially since I know I'll never be hiking it...not that I can't hike anymore ;)

I know Docmo mentioned NatGeo, maybe you should try to get a job there, your hubs and photos certainly meet the criteria!

Voted up, awesome, and interesting.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 01, 2012:

Teaches - oh yes, the phlox is so beautiful this time of year!! I might have to go back and do this do get some more blueberries AND in the fall when the colors start changing. :) Thanks for stoppin' by!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 01, 2012:

Docmo - awesome! I LOVE National Geographic and friends and I were talking about the photojournalism piece that makes the pictures in that magazine so awesome. Golly, I'm super flattered that the mere mention of Nat'l Geographic in a comment with regards to my work - thank you so much, Docmo. I hope you've had fun/are having fun on your travels! :)

Dianna Mendez on July 31, 2012:

When I saw the photo with phlox it reminded me of my home back in Virginia. These flowers covered the hillsides and were a sight of beauty. Love your write up on this trial and enjoyed the tour.

Mohan Kumar from UK on July 31, 2012:

Beautiful write up on the trail, Cyndi. absolutely breathtaking.. the writing and the pictures sure do complement each other. Mqkes me want to go there.. i remember as you child reading old National Geographic mags and dreaming of travelling all over the world. This article brings home the same spirit of travel. Awesome!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 30, 2012:

Lyricwriter - you're from WV? It's SO BEAUTIFUL there. I go skiing up at Snowshoe sometimes. :) Thank you for stopping by and for your kind words. I appreciate you. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 30, 2012:

Randomcreative - aw, you are so sweet! Thank you for your feedback. A hiking trip is always fun! :)

Richard Ricky Hale from West Virginia on July 29, 2012:

CC, voting this up and all across but funny. Excellent job on this article and vast information. The mountains are absolutely beautiful. Being from West Virginia, I know exactly how beautiful they are. Awesome job on your research CC, just a wealth of great info. Nothing like a hike in this ancient mountain range.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 29, 2012:

Great job as always! I enjoy your hiking hubs. Beautiful pictures and wonderful tips.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 29, 2012:

Aviannovice - hey there! Good to see you. :) It's beautiful here, but I hope we really can turn the tide and keep nature pristine and beautiful. I hope you've had a wonderful weekend. :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on July 29, 2012:

Indeed, this is beautiful country. We should spend as much time as we can observing our wilderness, just in case it may not be around much longer.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 29, 2012:

Tammy! Yes! These are all in your neck of the woods, too. :) It's a fun challenge and if you're ever in the area, let's go on a hike! :) Hubhugs!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 29, 2012:

Alocsin - yeah, I wondered about that about those people, too. I have no idea, but that's indeed why I wanted to share that picture...I wonder what became of them. Thanks for comin' by!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 29, 2012:

Outbound Dan - hey there! I HAD to link - your hubs fit perfectly with this and they're so well written - they're incredibly valuable hubs. :) These mountains are my new-ish adopted home. After growing up in the Rockies, I have always loved the mountains, but I appreciate the Appalachians differently than I do the Rockies. One of my favorite things is how you can hike and see things that I never would see out in Colorado. Thanks for stopping by!

Tammy from North Carolina on July 29, 2012:

I love reading about your adventures and all of the pictures. This looks like a great physical challenge. I will not embark on any of these trails without getting tips from you. Excellent!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on July 29, 2012:

As beautiful as these photos are, the most striking one was the sign about bears. I imagine they had to walk back due to lack of supplies. Voting this Up and Interesting.

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on July 28, 2012:

This looks like an awesome hike. Great use of pictures, descriptions, and a map to illustrate your journey on this trail. The Southern Balds are spectacular and the presence of snow quartz adds something extra special to those mountains.

I appreciate the links to some of my articles too!

Thanks for sharing your journey and good hiking.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 28, 2012:

Mhatter - I'm glad you stopped by. :) Hopefully you were able to get a "virtual" hiking experience from the pics. :) Have a wonderful weekend! :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 28, 2012:

Doc Sonic - aww, thank you so much! :) I loved this place and I'm still aching from doing all this, but it was sooo worth it. :) Cheers!

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on July 28, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your experience. My hiking days are behind me.

Glen Nunes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on July 28, 2012:

Sounds like an amazing place. Your descriptions and photos are always terrific, but you may have set a new standard with this hub!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 28, 2012:

Bill - Indeed. I grew up in the Rockies and they have their own breathtaking beauty. They aren't like the Rockies, but each set of mountains captures my heart in different ways. Thanks for coming by, Big Bro. :)

Josh - thank you so much for stopping by. :) I appreciate your feedback. That's a funny designation: Queen of Hiking. Haha. I'll take it. :D

Teresa - I bet Canada is beautiful in its own way. I'll have to take a look at your hubs and see if I can spot some photos of Ontario. Hehe. I hope you're having fun on your walk. Thank you for stopping by, friend. :)

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on July 28, 2012:

You have beautiful countryside in your neck of the woods Cyndi! Hiking is such an interesting and beautiful way to get some exercise. On that note I'm going to head out to my back thirty and take the dogs for a walk. Great hub and voted up!

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on July 28, 2012:


Another fabulous hiking hub with beautiful pictures! I feel like I had a good day of exercise just for reading this hub. Great job, I am going to dub you the the "Queen of Hiking" :) Thanks for sharing Cyndi!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 28, 2012:

The vistas are spectacular! Nothing like the Rockies but in their own way, quite beautiful. Nice job Sis! Thanks for taking us along on your hike.