Hiking to the Top of Looking Glass Rock

Walking out onto the summit of Looking Glass Rock.
Walking out onto the summit of Looking Glass Rock. Jake Wheeler
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Nestled in the Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock is an iconic natural presence that beckons climbers and hikers from all over. For rock climbers, it's one of the premier multi-pitches in the South. For trail runners and hikers, it's one of the top 10 hikes around the city of Asheville (which is saying a lot considering the peaks and forests of Western Carolina are brimming with such a dazzling array of hiking adventures).

And for many, just photographing or driving past this prominent feature and witnessing it from other vantage points in the national forest area is satisfying and inspiring enough.

Everyday there are those who feel the call to summit and stand on the rounded granite face of Looking Glass Rock. And for those who do, they're rewarded with a fantastic, flat sitting picnic area and the company of commanding panoramas.

Beginning the hike to the summit of Looking Glass Rock.
Beginning the hike to the summit of Looking Glass Rock. Jake Wheeler

Getting to the trailhead is pretty simple. Located only 5.5 miles outside of Brevard, NC on Forest Service Road 475, it's hard to miss the well-maintained and well-trodden path, not to mention the big, brown park sign showing you the way.

Not for those who are out of shape, this trail gains a total of 1,700 vertical feet in just over three miles on its way to the 4,000’ summit of Looking Glass. And a good thing to note when heading there is that this is one of the most popular hikes in Western North Carolina, so you'll want to arrive early because the parking lot can quickly fill up.

Following the yellow blazes, and getting lost in the lushness of the trail.
Following the yellow blazes, and getting lost in the lushness of the trail. Jake Wheeler

The trail to the top is a singletrack path etched into the mountainside that switchbacks its way up the mountain for for an out-and-back journey totaling 6.4 miles.

You'll start with a comfortable stroll through thick virgin hardwoods and verdant fern gullies, following a creek up through a hollow, until the trail begins to start switching back and forth, winding its way up the backside of the mountain towards the granite dome summit. At times, this hike can be a little challenging, but the closer you get to the top, the less steep it becomes. And trust me, the views are worth the effort and energy.

Winding up one of the many switchbacks along this hike.
Winding up one of the many switchbacks along this hike. Jake Wheeler
Towards the top, the hike begins to get a little rocky, foreshadowing the rock face summit to come.
Towards the top, the hike begins to get a little rocky, foreshadowing the rock face summit to come. Jake Wheeler

Roughly two miles into the trail hikers will pass a relatively flat rock clearing with a large, painted “H.” From aerial heights, this “H” signals a landing pad for helicopter crews who come to rescue injured climbers. From the ground let this “H” stand as your reminder to watch your step during the rest of your journey! A spur trail leads from the back of the helicopter landing zone to the Lower Looking Glass Cliffs. Taking this short spur allows views of the main cliff face and a chance at solidarity from the crowds.

Otherwise, continue through a few open balds and scattered granite rock gardens that foreshadow the future sights ahead. You'll pass through wooded areas that have a few scattered campsites amongst them, and then you'll pass through a canopy of trees that create a rather welcoming tunnel for you to walk through as you make your way to the top of Looking Glass Rock.

The summit of Looking Glass is jaw-dropping.
The summit of Looking Glass is jaw-dropping. Jake Wheeler
Enjoying the views from Looking Glass Rock.
Enjoying the views from Looking Glass Rock. Jake Wheeler

The summit of Looking Glass is a somewhat of an anomaly in the Blue Ridge: it's flat-topped, thickly forested, and not particularly tall. In fact, you'll be gazing up at the mountains that engulf you, not down upon them. If you continue past the actual summit, that's where you'll reach the good stuff: the views from Upper Looking Glass Cliffs are simply good for the soul.

We recommended packing a small daypack with water, some granola bars, a camera, lunch for the summit, and a light pullover if it's windy on top. If you're thinking about hiking to the top of Looking Glass Rock, share your adventures with us by tagging #RootsRated. And remember to always Leave No Trace.

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