Hiking Looking Glass Rock
Hiking Looking Glass Rock
As you’re driving southbound on the parkway from Asheville, it’s hard to miss Looking Glass Rock looming in the distance. Surrounded by a carpet of forest, Looking Glass Rock is instantly recognizable for it’s rounded rock face that almost looks like the top of a giant’s head poking out of the ground below.
While from the overlook it might not look hikable, if you drive down into the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock is a well maintained, easy to follow, beautiful trail. With that being said, if you are trying to avoid crowds, this may not be the hike for you. Even though we went in November after peak leaf season, the trail was packed full of people.
The trail starts by entering into a beautiful forest area, and as you cross over a small walking bridge with cairns in a small creek, the hike truly begins its 1600 foot climb to the top.
Bundled in sweatshirts, pullovers, and hats, we quickly shed our layers as we climbed switchback after switchback. While not an overly long (3.1 miles one way) trail, the elevation gain is sure to make even the most in shape person sweat a bit, and water will be your best friend!
Hiking in North Carolina in the fall is amazing. While trees were mostly barren by the second weekend in November, it was still fun to hear the crunch of the leaves under our feet. Not to mention, while we did feel the effects of the elevation gain in the form of labored breaths and sore calves, I was never overheated. Southern heat and humidity can make hiking much more difficult, but in the fall the weather tends to cooperate.
About 20 minutes from the top, the trail opens up to the left into a giant rock clearing. There were people relaxing in the sun, basking in the chance to take a break before climbing the last section before the summit. For a quick minute I thought that this was the pinnacle of the hike and I’ll admit I was pretty upset.
Sometimes, hikes have been so highly spoken about, but when you do them yourself, the experience is underwhelming.
Fortunately, that’s not what happened here.
We walked out on the rock clearing, noticing it is used as a rescue helipad. Someone named Max Wilson carved his name impressively into the stone face, and I had to laugh at his dedication. We gave the stone a quick loop and then decided to head up to the top.
We were tired at this point. After a little more than 2 miles of hiking at a steady incline, we were ready to get to the top. We passed people on the trail, so close to the summit, wondering if they would be able to make it. We pushed through the last little bit of elevation gain…full of three foot rocks that forced you to essentially squat your own body weight continuously.
The trail dips back down, giving your legs a much appreciated rest, and then you’ve arrived.
The tunnel of trees typical to North Carolina trails gives way to a giant rock face that slowly declines into a sheer cliff face. I’ve never seen anything like it. The views of the surrounding mountains offer so much depth, and I felt like I could see forever.
Rather than turn around right away, we sat with the 30 or so other people spread out along the rock face. I brought my back country stove, and made tea for us to enjoy while we sat and took in the view. It was a little chilly at the top, and we were happy we still had those extra clothes we shed earlier. Plus the warm liquid from the tea was soul warming.
We sat at the top of Looking Glass Rock, looking out over the land for what was probably close to an hour. Even though we were shivering, it was hard to pull ourselves away from that summit. Those blue mountains, the endless trees, and the friendly atmosphere at the top were more than enough to make us want to stay. Eventually, with the thought of dinner, we made our way back to our campsite down the road.
All in all, while Looking Glass Rock was decently strenuous for a hike, it was a fabulous way to spend a day. If you are looking for a good workout, a great view, and a reason to fall in love with these mountains, this is a great hike for you.
Hiking Looking Glass Rock will be a 6.2 mile journey round trip with 1600 feet in elevation gain. Bring water with you. The trailhead is located on Fish Hatchery Road, off of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pisgah National Forest, Pisgah Ranger District. There is a small parking lot for 15 cars at the trailhead, but it is often full. Parking is allowed on the street, just make sure to be pulled completely off the road before leaving your vehicle.
The summit sits at 3969 feet. The top of the rock is safe to walk on, but be careful if walking near the bottom because a fall will kill you. The trail is an out-and-back trail, so take the same way back as you came. While most of the trail is shaded, the summit is in direct sunlight so sunscreen could be needed. Dogs are allowed if kept on a leash, but if your dog is not friendly I would not recommend bringing them. There are many people with dogs on the trail, and it can be a tight squeeze past people in some places.
If hiking after a lot of rain or storms, the trail will be muddy and wet in points. Some of the trail may be flooded out completely but is still passable.
The switchbacks are tiring, but following the trail set helps prevent erosion. Please keep to the trail rather than cutting the switchbacks. Help keep Pisgah as beautiful as she is now! Happy hiking!