Hike Shining Rock - Find Blueberries!
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 wonderful for anyone looking for an interesting adventure.
Shining Rock is located in the Shining Rock Wilderness in Western NC. Congress began designating national wilderness systems in 1964 and Shining Rock Wilderness was designated as such in 1964, as well. It’s one of the original wilderness areas. In 1984, its area 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.
Shining Rock Wilderness
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 on to 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.
Before You Hike
Before heading out, make sure you have a map, preferably a topographical map. The trail is fairly clear, but there are lots of smaller trails that intersect with the Art Loeb trail, many lead-offs to campsites exist and 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 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. 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.
Will you try this hike to Shining Rock?
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 that it’s known for its blueberries and 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 berry, make 100% sure you have positively identified it).
As we ascended Tennent Mountain, the skies began to get cloudy. They provided some interesting pictures of Pisgah National Forest.
We rested at the top, at an elevation of 6,040 feet. The mountain was named for a doctor who helped to establish hiking trails in the area.
As we began to descend we 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.
Grassy Cove Top
We 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 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, there are other trails that 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.
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/north-east up along the unmarked trail.
Be prepared to do a little “rock climbing.” Not true rock climbing, but there are some large ledges you’ll need to ascend to get to the top. Our 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.
Once you get back to 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 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, then backtrack just 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 to 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.
Otherwise, the trail is about 8.6 miles roundtrip. Plan for about 7-8 hours, depending on how fast you walk, how many breaks you need, time of day, and energy levels. It’s a fun hike, but it’s also great to be prepared.
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun