Looking Glass Rock is one of the more famous peaks in Pisgah National Forest. Its bald, stone face is easily observed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is parking in a dedicated lot at the trailhead and along the road. The earlier you get there, the less crowded it will be. I did this early on a Sunday and still had the park on the shoulder of the road.
The hike to the top features 3¼ miles of elevation. That makes this a 6½ mile out-and-back trail. The pathway starts off with rolling hills. Then switchbacks are needed to make the steeper elevation more manageable. The real challenge with this trail is the erosion. Much of it resembles a staircase with high rises and short runs.
About 2/3 of the way up the mountain, there’s a rocky bald area to the left of the main trail. This is a fun little area to explore and is where helicopters land in case of emergencies. Most people don’t know it, but there’s a sub-summit overlook you can reach from this area. It’s a good way to break up the slog up the mountain, or to stop and turn back if you’re just not feeling it that day.
The climb is a veritable advertisement for trekking poles. They make it easy to push up and over each step with your upper body strength. There are a few false summits on the climb up that are a bit disheartening. You see blue sky just above you, but you never seem to reach it. The trail just gets steeper as you get higher. You’ll know you’re at the real summit when you start hiking downhill. The big reveal is worth the sweat.
The stone face of Looking Glass Rock is truly unique. You can walk down toward the precipice, but be careful. A fall from this height will certainly be fatal. The view is absolutely stunning. You can just make out Black Balsam Knob, the high peak in the distance.
I hiked this trail with a full pack (see my gear list) and made it up in around 90 minutes. I felt really good, even after doing the Burrells Ford Loop, Frying Pan Mountain Lookout Tower, and a section of the Mountains To Sea Trail in the previous two days. Thanks to my trekking poles (and my history of pole vaulting), I made it back down to the car in a mere 50 minutes. I think I sweat more on the downhill than the uphill. I was practically running.
This was part of my preparation for the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail that leads around and over many of the mountains in the video above.
I really can’t stress how much of a payoff the view is. No matter how miserable your party is on the way up, they will perk up immediately as they walk through the dense brush and glimpse the mountains before them. I saw lots of people with dogs, a woman who had to be in her 70s, and kids as young as 8 years old.
The beginning of the trail is a little swampy, so douse yourself with bug spray before you get going. And there’s little shade on the rock face, so bring some sunscreen as well. I suggest that you bring a picnic and spend some time on the cliff face. There’s actually a weak cell signal on the summit, so you can choose the perfect Instagram filter while you’re taking in the view.
I first hiked this summit when I was trying to get in shape in 2016. I’ve done this hike at least a dozen times since then in all kinds of weather conditions. I’ve taken other people there, but I usually do it alone. Honestly, I usually hike it for speed these days. It’s a 2-hour trek for me now. It takes me around 65 minutes to get to the summit and 45 minutes to get back down with a 10-minute rest at the top.
You can actually see me lose weight as the photos below progress. I switched from a large, blue merino wool shirt to a medium, gray one and smaller shorts. Learn more about my hiking clothes.