Explore Deep Forest in the Shining Rock Wilderness, North Carolina
Pisgah National Forest blankets the southern Appalachians, and at the heart of all that greenery there’s a backwoods gem—a forest within a forest. The 18,479-acre Shining Rock Wilderness protects an East Coast paradise of waterfalls, mountaintop views, and remote trails.
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Having spent most of his life in either Charlotte or the deep-mountain trail town of Brevard, North Carolina, Adam DeWitte has a wealth of knowledge about the Shining Rock Wilderness and larger Blue Ridge Mountains region. But for him, that’s not enough. As the director of the Pisgah Field School and Director of Education for the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, DeWitte has dedicated himself to sharing his backyard, either by teaching at summer camps or by leading groups of kids and adults on guided hikes, waterfall tours, and other interpretive expeditions.
Get Shining Rock’s best views right off the bat with this 5.2-mile loop over Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain to Ivestor Gap. From the top of either peak, wide, grassy ridgelines offer unobstructed views east down to Graveyard and Ivestor Ridges. On a clear clay, pick out the quartz cap on Shining Rock Mountain to the north. From the Black Balsam trailhead off FS816, take Trail 108 as it switchbacks quickly up to the Art Loeb Trail (Trail 146), following that to the fire-scarred ridge at Black Balsam Knob. Even better views come from Tennent Mountain, north along the same trail at mile 1.9. “There are a handful of craggy outcroppings with spectacular vistas,” DeWitte says. Look for Little Sam Knob and the Blue Ridge Parkway to the south. Continue north to Ivestor Gap (and the wilderness boundary) at mile 2.6 before picking up Trail 101 south—a former railroad bed—which leads directly back to the parking lot.
Escape the crowds of the Parkway by hiking deep into the wilderness for a night below—and a climb up—6,030-foot Cold Mountain. The 17.6-mile out and back begins from the Black Balsam trailhead and follows Trail 108 and the Art Loeb Trail (Trail 146) north to Ivestor Gap (by way of Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain) before continuing north along the Ivestor Gap Trail (Trail 101). Roll over a series of small knobs to The Narrows—a ridge-running piece of singletrack that DeWitte compares to the Rockies. At the base of Cold Mountain, camp in Deep Gap at mile 6.7 in one of a handful of spots on either side of the trail (BYO water). Next morning, climb 1.4 miles and just over 1,000 vertical feet to the summit, dotted with rocky outcroppings with views into the quietest parts of the Shining Rock Wilderness. Descend to your camp and reverse your steps back to the trailhead.
Below the ridgelines, wooded valleys hide scores of streams and cascades. Find a few of the best on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (Trail 440). From Black Balsam Knob Road .5 mile south of the Black Balsam trailhead, hike around a lower slope of Black Balsam Knob and through the scrubby vegetation of Graveyard Ridge. After turning right on Trail 358B, reach the Yellowstone Prong of the East Fork Pigeon River near mile 3.3 and Lower Falls (labeled on maps as Second Falls), where rock slabs offer a breather from the dense brush and a pool sits below the lowest tier. Continue west along Trails 358B and 358A to 40-foot Upper Falls at mile 4.7. Retrace your steps to your car.
Posthike, DeWitte likes Ecusta Brewery and its patio on the Davidson River in Brevard. Walk across the street to The Hub, a bike shop that is commonly inundated with food trucks. DeWitte’s favorite: Blue Smoke Barbecue.
Season April-November (but occasionally later, check snow conditions with the local Forest Service office) Permit None, but bear canisters are required year-round for camping.