Distance – 6.3 Miles (out and back)
Elevation Change – 1650 feet
Highest Point – 3,970 feet
Hike Rating – Difficult
GPS – 35.336942 -82.793461
The first time I saw Looking Glass Rock was in October of 2013. It occurred during our second trip to Brevard and our first sojourn into Pisgah Forest. We had seen Looking Glass Falls and we had just left the parking area at Moore Cove when we came around a bend in US276 and there it was. That ominous granite dome towering high above the road. The gray rock face was capped with a band of red and orange fall color. I had never seen anything like it. At that moment, Looking Glass Rock became my obsession. My wife began referring to Looking Glass Rock and Yellowstone Falls (the one in Graveyard Fields) as my White Whales. It wasn’t until July of 2015 that I finally got to cross LGR off the list.
It was a warm July morning, Friday the 17th 2015, when I pulled into the Looking Glass Rock parking area a few minutes after 9 a.m. There were half a dozen cars in the lot, modest by Looking Glass Rock Trailhead parking standards. By the time I returned roughly three hours later, parked cars had overflowed onto US276 in both directions. A lot of folks had come out for the view from the summit. None of them would have the same view as I did this day.
The LGR trailhead is located on FR475, 0.4 miles from the intersection with US276. To get to FR475, take US276 North from the intersection in Brevard where 64/280/276 converge. The fork to the left for FR475 is 5.2 miles from the intersection. The parking area will be on the right, 0.4 miles from the split. If you don’t get here early, you will be parking on the street. LGR and John Rock are two of the most popular hikes in this part of Pisgah forest so don’t expect a lot of solitude.
The hike begins at a trailhead marker located at the top of the steps just off the parking area. The hike is easy in this respect, there is the only trail, so getting lost isn’t a prime concern. As you enter the woods the trail is going to mirror a small creek that flows down the mountain. On my July visit it was barely a trickle so don’t expect too much. Initially the hike is flat as the trail works around the ridge and crosses the creek. Not long after the crossing, the easy part ends as the trail ascends into the first of a series of steep switchbacks. As you climb higher, you will be able to see the trail as it snakes its way up the mountain behind you. Even in the thick July foliage I could easily see the trail below me.
The frequent direction changes prevent the ascent from becoming too steep but even so, the entirety of this hike is going to be uphill. As they frequently do, the back and forth swings occur more frequently as the elevation increases. A mile into the hike you will have already climbed about 500 feet. On mile two it gets steeper, adding another 750 feet of elevation.
Near the halfway point you will encounter the steepest section of the trail. At around this same time, the ground is going to be a little rockier. At around 1.75 miles from the outset there is a large section of exposed rock on the right side of the trail. The rock is steep but if its dry you can climb up and take in the view back toward US276 and FR475. I don’t have a more detailed description other than if you’re paying attention you can’t miss it. If you get to the helipad, you weren’t paying attention and you missed the outcropping. At this point, you can check it out on the way back if you choose. At about 2.0 miles into the hike you will reach a small opening in the woods to the left that leads to a large area of open stone. The area is used as a helipad for rescue operations. It provided a great place to take a short rest before completing the push to the summit. On a section of the rock, near the trail to the summit, there is an inscription.
You’ll likely be feeling it in your legs by this point so as you embark on the final mile to the top, realize that this is the most challenging section of the trail. It isn’t the steepest section but the trail condition drops off noticeably As you near the summit the elevation tapers off until you are standing atop Looking Glass Rock. There is a large campsite on the left but there is no view from the highest point. In order to get a view you have to continue on the trail as it begins to descend toward the open portion of the cliff face. The descending trail is a steep, rocky mess so use caution. The trail ends at the rockface. The forest floor ends and the woods part to permit an unobstructed view of the Pisgah Ridge. Directly ahead, lost in the foliage is Headwaters Road (FR475B) and beyond that is the Blue Ridge Parkway, also lost in the vegetation
There is a large section of exposed rock here. Close to the forest it is relatively flat and since it was dry I ventured out and had a look around. I went as far as the large flat stone in the above picture. People do go further. I did not. I’m not going to tell anyone what to do but keep this in mind. It gets steep in a hurry. If the rock would have been wet, there is no way I would have left the woods. The rockface is fairly (really) steep and one slip is the end.
That concludes the trail recap. The following is my summit story. When I arrived at the parking area at 9:15, there were six cars parked. In the five minutes it took me to prepare my pack, several more pulled in. It was time to go! I embarked on my summit hike at 9:21 according to All-Trails. I set a brisk pace on the lower section of the trail and as a result I passed the older couple that had departed just as I pulled into the parking lot about half a mile into the hike. I passed another couple during the first series of switchbacks. At a rocky overlook on the left side of the trail, where the trail swings into a hard right, I passed a group of 10 people who were resting. The pace was killing me but knowing I wasn’t going to have to deal with that group on the summit made it worth the effort.
Shortly after passing the ‘family affair’ I briefly joined up with two women from Asheville. We exchanged our respective hiking experiences before parting ways when they elected to stop and rest. Half a mile later I reached the helipad, alerted to it’s presence by voices. On the bare rock emblazoned with a white H, 275 miles from where I live, I met a family from town where I live, Summerville, SC. As it turned out, we lived only a few miles apart. When I resumed my hike after my brief water break, they were still chilling in the sun. Less than half an hour later, I reached the summit. As a result of my brisk pace, not only did I reach the summit but I reached it first. It permitted me the opportunity to enjoy it in total solitude for almost fifteen minutes.
Having the overlook on Looking Glass Rock to yourself for a minute is probably too much to ask on most days, having it for a quarter of an hour was incredible. It gave me the chance to chill on that boulder and snap a few summit pics for Instagram & Facebook. Status update: Chilling on the top of Looking Glass Rock! Hard to believe, 3 bars of 4G LTE on the top of LGR? Are you kidding me? Thanks Verizon!
As they say, all good things…
The couple I passed early on were the next to arrive. Things were tolerable. Shortly thereafter the family circus poured out of the woods, ending my time on the summit. The view wasn’t nearly as spectacular with more than a dozen people buzzing about. Before that group could disperse onto the rockface, two more people arrived. Totally my cue to leave. I met the family from Summerville on the way back to the actual summit and they clued me in on the rocky outcropping just past the helipad. After that encounter, I passed a non-stop flow of people making their way up the mountain. I made a stop to scale the rocky prominence on the left side of the trail just past the helipad. While i was enjoying the view I saw more people heading for the summit. It made me realize my timing had been perfect and my unobstructed view was such a rare occurrence. In all, my total ‘hiking’ time was just shy of 3 hours, with the only clock stoppage occurring at the summit.