I’m warming to this idea: at least one sweltering outing a year at the top of Pilot Mountain, just to test the principle that there’s no bad time to hike up there. I finished a sweat-drenched wretch on Sunday just as I did 11 months ago, when I made my inaugural North Carolina hike at the Great Stone Teat of the Triad. Now I’m all for trying it again — in another 11 months.
There’s barely more than 3.5 miles of trail atop Pilot Mountain, and you can’t even go to the true summit, aka Big Pinnacle — it’s essentially a bird sanctuary. None of the trails are exactly easy; even the shortest is steep and jagged enough for a “moderate” rating. Then there’s the Ledge Spring Loop, a cliff-hugging, stair-stepping trail that introduced me to the concept of a 2.2-mile “strenuous” hike, as abundant in North Carolina as it is non-existent in the Bay Area. You hear your heartbeat on this one.
I went out Sunday thinking I’d give the summit a once-over before devoting an EveryTrail Guide to it. As much as the Guides create the theoretical possibility of being paid to hike, the reality is there are chores involved: reading interpretive panels, remembering key turns, etc. Just ask my wife: I hike to avoid chores.
While it’s true the humidity was so high there should’ve been lifeguards posted (you know, for the drowning risk), it didn’t feel like work. Let’s let the pictures do the talking:
From the parking lot, I headed down to the Sassafras Trail, which I’d missed on previous outings. It’s a half-mile nature trail that’s basic walking-in-the-woods most of the way, but it does have a view I’d never seen before:
That’s the rest of the Sauratown Range off in the distance — with Hanging Rock State Park the peak furthest back. This is essentially the mirror image of the view from the top of Moore’s Wall at Hanging Rock, the other end of the Sauratown Range. Here’s the picture I took from Moore’s Wall last October:
That’s Pilot Mountain’s Big Pinnacle behind Sauratown Mountain. And as we all know, the Sauratown Trail connects the two. (Now, we should all hold hands and sing a Peter, Paul and Mary song in memory of this moment of connectedness).
OK, on down the trail.
The must-visit point near the summit is Little Pinnacle Overlook, which has visas galore.
The Big Pinnacle.
A turtle works on its tan (or is it a tortoise? I should know this.)
One more view from the top.
Next up: Ledge Spring Trail. I took the most direct route, back down to the parking lot.
Lots of little footpaths go right up to the edge of the cliffs — the only place where rock climbing is allowed.
Tell me this rock doesn’t look like a dog’s head.
Ledge Spring Trail is a long, pretty steep descent when you start out from the parking lot. It comes to a big elbow at the intersection with the Grindstone Trail and hangs a sharp left. From here there’s 500 feet of elevation gain in a mile, mostly in the form of stair steps made from old stone. I had to stop and rest a half-dozen times along this stretch, but I still couldn’t help thinking if you have to climb, the climb should be interesting. I’d go this way next time.
I presume this is Ledge Spring.
One of many climbers bravely emerging from the forest shade to bake on a sheer cliff.
Most of the best shots are looking straight up.
Eventually this trail ends at the Jameokee Trail, a .8 mile loop around the shoulder of Big Pinnacle. It’s nice hiking, but tends to get crowded.
Big Pinnacle has awesome cliffs.
After almost a year’s worth of hikes in the Triad, the Blue Ridge and beyond, I was a bit surprised how well Pilot Mountain’s summit trails stack up. The hiking’s quite good, though it might leave you wishing for a third pinnacle.
Links for this hike:
- EveryTrail GPS travelogue.
- North Carolina State Parks page.
- Pilot Mountain map (PDF download).
- NC state parks on Google Earth.
Google Map for Pilot Mountain State Park:
View Pilot Mountain State Park trailheads in a larger map