Hiking the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses covers a network of 34 trails and trail sections in the area.

Pisgah Ranger District Trails Illustrated Map includes the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness Areas

 Shining Rock Wilderness

The Shining Rock Wilderness is a protected Wilderness Area in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Its first 13,400 acres were among the original components of the National Wilderness Preservation System passed in 1964. Today, the Shining Rock Wilderness now includes a total of 18,483 acres, making it the largest Wilderness Area in North Carolina. This protected wilderness was later joined by the adjacent Middle Prong Wilderness Area in 1984.

Located in the Pisgah National Forest, both Wilderness Areas border the Blue Ridge Parkway where it forms a large "V", roughly halfway between the Great Smoky Mountains and Asheville, NC. The Shining Rock Wilderness occupies the eastern half of the V, while the Middle Prong Wilderness occupies the western half. The two areas are separated by NC Route 215.

The very steep and rugged terrain of the Shining Rock Wilderness includes five mountain peaks that rise above 6,000 feet. At 6,030 feet, Cold Mountain is the highest point in the Wilderness. The 10-mile range known as the Shining Rock Ledge offers spectacular vistas and diverse habitats.

Meandering through the heart of the Wilderness is the famous Art Loeb Trail, a National Recreation Trail that traverses over the highest peaks and balds, and can be used to reach the summit of Cold Mountain. The Art Loeb is considered by many to be one the best trails in the region.

 Hiking in the Shining Rock Wilderness

Almost all the trails in the Shining Rock Wilderness are rated as difficult. Additionally, some of the trails in some places can be hard to follow. Hikers should bring a good detailed map with them before venturing into the wilds.

There are three main access points for trails within the Wilderness. The Black Balsam area near the Blue Ridge Parkway (near milepost 420) is the most popular. Although it's not part of the Wilderness itself, the Art Loeb and Ivestor Gap trails lead into Shining Rock from this location.

looking-glass-rockAnother popular trailhead is on the eastern side of the Wilderness, roughly 2.9 miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway where US 276 crosses the Big East Fork Pigeon River. Several trails head up the ridges into the heart of the Wilderness from here. Although the beginning of these trails are relatively easy, they become more and more difficult the further you travel. The third trailhead is in the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp on the western side of the Wilderness, located off of NC 215, and provides the nearest access to the summit of Cold Mountain.

 The Art Loeb Trail

Although one of the longest and more difficult trails in North Carolina, the 30.1-mile Art Loeb Trail still ranks as one of the more popular trails in the area. And no wonder, traveling mainly along peaks and ridges, the trail offers many outstanding panoramic views along its route.

The trail is a memorial to Art Loeb, an activist from the Carolina Mountain Club, and a man who "deeply loved these mountains."


Along the way the Art Loeb Trail traverses several significant peaks, including Black Balsam Knob (6214 feet), Tennant Mountain (6040 feet) and Pilot Mountain (5095 feet). The trail also skirts the base of Cold Mountain which was made famous by the novel and the film.

Many hikers use the Art Loeb for extended backpacking trips, while others use shorter sections for day hikes, or use connecting trails to form several outstanding loop hikes. Most of the trail is overlapped by the Mountains-to-the Sea Trail which is blazed with 3-inch white dots.

The trail is split into four sections:

Section 1: South of Pisgah Ranger Station to Gloucester Gap: 12.3 miles.

Access: Turn onto the road to the Davidson River Campground near Brevard, NC, 0.2 mile south of the Pisgah District Ranger Station on U.S. Highway 276 and park in the Art Loeb Trailhead parking lot.

Starting at the Davidson River the trail climbs in a west-southwest direction and curves around Cedar Rock Mountain and then proceeds onto Gloucester Gap, traversing up and down the ridges and gaps along the way.

Section 2: Gloucester Gap to Black Balsam Knob: 7.2 miles.

Access: Start from Gloucester Gap, which is 4.5 miles west of the State Fish Hatchery on Forest Service Road 475. (It's recommended not to leave cars overnight here.)

From Gloucester Gap the trail swings west-northwest before making the ascent to Pilot Mountain, the former site of a fire tower with panoramic 360-degree views.

Beyond Pilot Mountain is Deep Gap where you'll find a shelter and spring. The trail then cuts through Farlow Gap, crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at Shuck Ridge, and then proceeds to make the steep climb up to Silvermine Bald where you'll reach an elevation of over 6000 feet. From here the trail makes the short climb to Forest Service Road 816 on Black Balsam Knob.

Section 3: Black Balsam Knob to Deep Gap: 6.8 miles.

Access: From U.S. Highway 276, travel 8 miles south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn onto Forest Service Road 816. Go 1 mile to the crest of the hill where the trail crosses over and look for a small pull-off.

The first half of this section of the Art Loeb Trail is perhaps the most spectacular. The trail crosses over Black Balsam and Tennant Mountains, both exceeding 6,000 feet in elevation. At Black Balsam, the trail's highest point (at 6214 feet), is a plaque commemorating Art Loeb.

Beyond Black Balsam the trail crosses into the Shining Rock Wilderness and passes over several mountain balds, including Shining Rock itself. This section of the Art Loeb Trail ends at Deep Gap and the intersection with the Cold Mountain Trail.

There are several campsites along this section should you decide to stay overnight.

An excellent 5-mile loop can be made by combining the Art Loeb Trail with the Ivestor Gap Trail.

Section 4: Deep Gap to Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp: 3.8 miles.

Access: From the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp off of U.S. Highway 215 four miles south of Bethel, NC. Please notify camp staff if you plan to leave your vehicle at the camp.

This is a short, but very steep section of the Art Loeb Trail that leads to the Cold Mountain Trail, a spur trail that leads to the summit of the highest peak in the Shining Rock Wilderness. Please note that you won't find any signs or trail blazes on this section.

 Other Trails in Shining Rock Wilderness

Big East Fork (Number: 357), 3.6 miles, Difficult hike that follows the Big East Fork of the Pigeon River. The trail is wide and heavily used near the beginning, but diminishes the further you travel. The trail, however, offers many pristine river scenes.

Cold Mountain Trail (Number: 141) 1.4 miles, Difficult. The Cold Mountain Trail is a spur trail off the Art Loeb Trail. Due to tree cover, there are no views at the 6,030-foot peak summit, however, if you backtrack about 10 yards down the trail from the top there is a small spur trail on the left that leads to a rock ledge that offers an incredible 180-degree view to the south. The Cold Mountain Trail is steep, ascending over 1000 feet in the 1.4 miles it takes to reach the top.

The summit of Cold Mountain can be reached by one of two (most common) hikes:

* The easier, but longest option is from the Black Balsam area near the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is an 8.2-mile one-way hike, but the elevation gain/loss is minimal. See Section 3 of the Art Loeb Trail for more information.

* The second route is a little shorter (5.2 miles one way) but is much more strenuous. From the trailhead at Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp the combined Art Loeb and Cold Mountain Trails climb roughly 2800 feet to reach the summit. The Cold Mountain Trail splits off from the Art Loeb Trail roughly 3.8 miles from the trailhead. The final 1.4 miles to the summit climbs roughly 1000 feet. See Section 4 of the Art Loeb Trail for more information.

Fork Mountain Trail (Number: 109) 6.2 miles, A little used but difficult trail that begins off of U.S. Highway 215, south of the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp.

Greasy Cove Trail (Number: 362) 3.2 miles, Also known as the Grassy Cove Trail, this is a difficult, steep hike to Grassy Cove Ridge. The trailhead is located off Forest Service Road 816, which is near Black Balsam off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Ivestor Gap (Number: 101) 4.3 miles. This is the only trail considered to be easy in the wilderness area. Ivestor Gap is a relatively level trail that follows an old railroad grade around Black Balsam and Tennant Mountains. The trail passes through several bald areas or areas where only rhododendron, mountain laurel, and blueberries grow. The blueberries grow in abundance and are usually ripe around mid-August. Please note that horses are allowed on the trail, and it's also open to four-wheel drive vehicles during the fall.

Little East Fork (Number: 232) 5.4 miles, Difficult but little used trail (horses are allowed on this trail) out of the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp.

Old Butt Knob (Number: 332) 3.6 miles, Very strenuous trail that splits off the Shining Creek Trail roughly 0.7 miles from the trailhead. It's a very steep climb to Old Butt Knob, but relatively moderate from there to Shining Rock. You'll have outstanding views from both of these vantage points.

Shining Creek (Number: 363) 3.4 miles, Difficult hike. Combine this trail with the Old Butt Knob for an excellent loop hike.

 Middle Prong Wilderness Trails

Buckeye Gap Trail (Number: 126) 4 miles, Difficult. Hikers can combine this with the Haywood Gap Trail for a long loop hike that will take you into the heart of the Middle Prong Wilderness.

Green Mountain (Number: 113) 5 miles, Very rough and difficult trail that climbs steeply from the river valley to the top of Green Mountain, and then travels along Fork Ridge. It's a scenic hike that travels through a variety of forest types.

Haywood Gap Trail (Number: 142) 5.8 miles, Difficult trail that travels through a mixed forest of rhododendron groves and forests of birch, maple, as well as some spruce and fir. The trail starts up along the Blue Ridge Parkway and traces the head of the Middle Prong of the West Fork of the Pigeon River.

Key Links:

US Forest Service: Shining Rock Wilderness

Cold Mountain Webcam

Art Loeb Biography