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Exploring Shining Rock Wilderness

A mountain playground named for its glistening white quartz centerpiece, the Shining Rock Wilderness is home to 13,400 acres of wild backcountry, half of which rises above 5,000 feet in elevation. Nestled high on the northern rim of Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina, this mountainous landscape is sure to scratch that itch for those who want to get up and get out.

The Shining Rock Wilderness has a year-round allure. Summer brings foraging for blackberries and blueberries in exposed mountain meadows. Autumn pulls a quilt of color over the steep canyon walls, providing leaf-peepers with the palette they hoped for. Winter delivers a peaceful, yet powerful calm over the mountains and gives way to cross-country skiing on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway during particularly heavy snows. And spring sees the whole landscape come to life with rhododendron blooms, lime green ferns, and dazzling wildflowers.

In short, there are many reasons (and ways) to explore the Shining Rock Wilderness. Here are 3 tried and true backpacking trip ideas to experience in the area.

The morning sun shining in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Kent Peggram
The morning sun shining in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Kent Peggram


30.1 miles one way** Moderate to Difficult**7800’ of total elevation gain**

Traveling 30 miles over soaring ridgelines and through some of the Pisgah’s most impressive mountain landscapes, the Art Loeb Trail is easily one of the best 2-3 day backpacking trips in the Southeast. The southern terminus is located at the back of the Davidson River Campground, on the edge of Brevard in the Pisgah National Forest. The northern trail terminus is located at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp off US276, below Cold Mountain. Either direction you hike will be full of fairly steep climbs, so bring your trekking poles. The trail can be tricky to navigate in some sections around ‘The Narrows’ between Cold Mountain and Shining Rock, so bring a good printed waterproof map (like National Geographic’s Pisgah USGS map). Water is scarce on the upper ridgeline, so it might be a good idea to carry more than normal. However, water can be found year-round from cave-taps atop Cold Mountain, Flower Knob on the Art Leob trail, and at the Sam Knob parking lot by the old road bed.


8.6 miles round-trip **Easy to Moderate**1500’ total elevation gain**

Fall foliage in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Kent Peggram
Fall foliage in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Kent Peggram

There’s usually at least one car in the parking lot for this hike. A giant quartz monolith sits out in the middle of a dense Spruce Fir forest at the end of this out-and-back option. It’s a section that offers easy access to the most popular miles of the Art Loeb Trail and includes the grassy bald of Black Balsam Knob at 6,214-feet elevation. Tennent Mountain commands another impressive vantage point at 6,040-feet. After a snack or camp in Ivestor Gap, the trail crosses two humps before presenting you in front of the gleaming Shining Rock.


6.8 miles round-trip **Difficult **2000’ up to the crest **

Parking at Big East Fork, east of Cold Mountain on US276, provides a handful of trail options, but this trail depicts the evolution of a creek to river perfectly. It’s steep. Starting as a cave-tap drip up top in the evergreens, Shining Creek tumbles and gains momentum as it flows alongside this trail to meet up with the roaring Pigeon River in hardwood forests below. It’s quite rewarding to come out onto a flat section of the Art Loeb Trail at Flower Knob. This makes for an excellent trail run or a great one-nighter.


The Shining Rock Wilderness in the dead of winter. Kent Peggram
The Shining Rock Wilderness in the dead of winter. Kent Peggram

Brevard is a convenient nearby adventure town. While mountain biking is not allowed in wilderness areas, some of the best singletrack in the East winds through Pisgah Forest, below Shining Rock. Mountain bikes can be rented at great shops like The Hub. Fishing licenses, flies tied for the area, and river reports are next door at Davidson River Campground.

The Pisgah Inn at mile 409 of the BRP provides a great mountain getaway experience for those who prefer to not sleep in the woods. It’s closed in winter.


Food hangs are no match for the bears in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Kent Peggram
Food hangs are no match for the bears in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Kent Peggram

A bear canister is required in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Bring one, or you have a very likely chance of a large bear swatting your ‘proper’ food hang like a pinata. Trust us. Otherwise, the bears aren’t an issue.

No fires are allowed inside the Shining Rock Wilderness or Middle Prong Wilderness, only in designated areas of Pisgah National Forest. Practice LNT ethics with fires always.

Some might be surprised at how much the temperature can drop in the evenings year-round. The average temperature in July here is 40 degrees at night and can easily dip below 0 in winter.

Check the weather the day before you go, if not the day of. Storms can blow in, seemingly from nowhere at these elevations, and lightning can be a real danger out on the balds. Be prepared, bring good rain gear, and a cold-rated sleeping bag.

Compass or GPS skills are recommended in wilderness areas, as the trails are usually harder to maintain.

One thought on “Exploring Shining Rock Wilderness

  1. enjoyed a november hike 2 years back. no water on the narrows or to cold mtn. beautiful, empty place.

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