Looking for a hike offering a little bit of everything? Want to see a wide variety of habitats, terrain, and ecosystems? Eager to enjoy a substantial hike culminating in a wonderful view from a gleaming rock dome? If so, you need to hike Looking Glass Rock.
A view from the end of the trail.
photo by A. Scott Lavender
Looking Glass Rock Trail is accessible from Fish Hatchery Road just off N.C. Highway 276 near the Pisgah Ranger Station. It is a there and back trail with no junctions with other trails, so this is the only access.
From the Pisgah Ranger Station: travel north on N.C. Highway 276 for 3.6 miles to the junction with Fish Hatchery Road. Turn onto Fish Hatchery Road. Travel .4 miles to the Looking Glass Rock Trailhead and parking area on the right.
Blaze Markings: yellow
Length: approximately 3.1 miles; exactly 16,463’; note this agrees with The Trails Illustrated Pisgah Ranger District map (1996). This trail is not accessible from the other side, requiring a there and back distance of approximately 6.2 miles; exactly 32,926’.
Difficulty: medium; due to elevation change and length; this is the official ranking; I think it should be ranked “difficult” due to effective length.
Looking Glass Rock is a Pisgah icon. Everyone who is able should hike it at least once. The gleaming of water on the rock dome, which early viewers compared to the shining of a mirror in sunlight, is the source of the name. There is a variety of terrain and forest types and features on the trail, including large trees, creeks, rock faces, valleys, gaps, mountaintops, and views. The first portion of the trail is reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest, at least in my mind, with tons of ferns ,in season, and large trees with a well-established canopy and little undergrowth. As the trail progresses, it becomes thicker, and, near and at the top, the trees are shorter and thicker as higher elevation trees generally are. There is a number of interesting rock features, including a section of trail composed of large rocks placed together on a slope like stair steps, only cooler. The last portion of the trail is very rocky and rooty.
A rock face along the trail
photo by A. Scott Lavender
Interestingly enough, this particular trail on the Blue Ridge Hiker website is mentioned in a new adult romance novel by Karen-Anne Stewart , After the Rain, wherein the two protagonists, Kas and Raina, use the website to help plan a much-needed vacation. They then hike the trail. Go Kas and Raina!
I hiked this trail in late September with my friend A. Scott Lavender. It was cool and overcast—great weather for a hike. Some yellows were just beginning to appear in the wood. We didn’t encounter many people, but it was a Monday, so I guess they were all in the “real world,” what a shame. The last time I was on the trail, part of it was quarantined for peregrine falcons, but we saw no such area this go ‘round.
The Looking Glass Rock Trail:
I began measuring at the edge of the stone steps at the trailhead:
At 158’, there is a kiosk with some general information about hiking and rock climbing and some outdated information about peregrine falcons.
At 543’, appears a small stream you will soon meet again.
At 612’, the same stream is found to be a branch of one overall larger stream that splits around an eyot just off the trail to the left (though you have to walk up alongside the stream a dab to verify this) with the two streams converging at this point. The path makes a ninety-degree angle at this point, with two wooden plank bridges crossing the temporarily separated waters.
At 1727’, a nice spring flows out of the left bank and crosses the path.
At 2252’, this process repeats.
From 1238’ to 4323’, a brisk-sounding stream below the trail sneaks in and out of sight. This area has an open understory with lots of good-sized trees for a second-growth forest. There is a nice variety of tree types, too. The rushing stream paralleling the trail makes this section of the hike pleasant, indeed.
At 5667’, a nice rock formation sticks out of the mountain at a switchback.
At 7523’, an interesting rock feature is on the trail itself: a thin lip of rock emerges from the ground, looking like a narrow bench.
At 7555’, an unofficial spur on the right leads to a view; this provides an appetizer for the primary view at trail’s end.
At 8437’, a small creek cascades down an area of exposed rock to the right of the trail. This is really too small to be considered an actual cascade, but it is attractive. Faint unofficial paths approach it.
At 9024’, you encounter the same creek on relatively level ground. Possibly the largest laurel bush (Rhododendron maximum) I’ve ever seen is perched atop a rock on the other side of the trail.
At 10,252’, the trail has been pulled up by a partially fallen tree, which is pretty cool, visually. The trail has been rerouted around this obstacle.
At 11,953’, and unofficial trail nips off to the left. Stay straight.
From 12,277’ to 12,348’, the trail is solid rock.
At 12,473’, an area of exposed rock that sometimes serves as a helio-pad is visible to the left. Go see it.
At 12,933’, there is an area of exposed rock to the right.
At 13,039’, an unofficial trail heads off to the left.
From 13,270’ to 13, 368’, very rugged, individual large rocks have been placed to make a rustic “staircase”. This is my favourite feature of the trail.
At 13,418’, a spring flows from the right, crossing the trail.
From 13,514’ to 13,562’, the trail is solid rock.
From 14,074’ to 14, 244’, the trail is on-and-off rock.
At 14,290’, an unofficial trail to the left leads to a rock face.
From 14,537’ to 14,595’, the trail is again on-and-off rock, mostly “on”.
At 14,691’, there is an old campsite to the right.
At 14,901’, an unofficial trail heads off to the right.
From 14,871’ to 14,937’, the trail is solid rock. This happens again from 15,048’ to 15,148’.
At 15,599’, there is an established (not official) campsite to the right in a nice gap with some large trees in it.
At 15,922’, there is another established campsite, this time to the left.
From 16,189’ to 16,262’, the trail is solid rock.
At 16,463’, the trail ends at the edge of a rock face with a step-down from the trail. As you step out of the forest to the incredible view, you’ll know why this trail is so popular.
A great reward
photo by A. Scott Lavender
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