Temperatures pushing the century mark are typically far above the threshold at which I leave the hiking boots on the rack. It takes something special, then, to coax me out in that kind of weather. So it was on this day when I found myself with a few hours to burn in the greater Winston-Salem area. I don't find myself in that part of the state all that often and Pilot Mountain is a place I've long desired to hit the trail so, when the opportunity presented itself this July, I decided to take it...100-degree temperatures or otherwise.
Pilot Mountain is one of those mountains that, once you see it, you don't soon forget. It's round pinnacle of a summit, ringed by 300' cliffs, rises dramatically some 1,400-feet from the surrounding Piedmont. It's a very striking sight. Located about a thirty minute drive north of Winston-Salem, the peak is part of the ancient Sauratown Mountain Range. The Sauratown's, at some 500+ million years in age, predate even the nearby Appalachian Mountains. The fact that Pilot rises so dramatically from its surroundings is that it (and the rest of the Sauratown's) are capped by a very erosion-resistant type of quartzite which has allowed the mountain to retain its rugged form even as the surrounding Piedmont has been eroded flat. In more modern times the area was inhabited by the Saura Indian Tribe who referred to the peak as 'Jomoekee' which means 'great guide'. Similarly, early white settlers in the area started referring to the mountain by its current name, 'Pilot'. Pilot Mountain State Park was established in 1968 and now encompasses some 3,700-acres of land which includes the entirety of the mountain itself as well as a small slice of land along the Yadkin River just to the south. Around 15-miles of trails ring the mountain but, upon a quick look at the map, you'll notice none actually ascend to the actual summit of Pilot. This is due to the fact that it, and particularly the cliffs surrounding it, have been made strictly off-limits to protect rare plant communities which inhabit them as well as protecting raven nesting grounds.
So the plan for this day was to make a brief hike around the upper-most reaches of the park. I knew my energy reserves would be quickly depleted in the oppressive heat so keeping things short and simple seemed a wise choice. Parking at the summit lot I would make a double loop along the summit ridge. I would first head west from the parking lot and explore the the rugged cliffs along the Ledge Spring Trail. I'd follow that up with the loop around the Big Pinnacle itself via the Jomeokee Trail. The heat non-withstanding, this was a great hike. Short and to the point it was far more fascinating and visually stimulating than I imagined it would be. So, without further adieu, I present Pilot Mountain State Park. Please sit back in your air conditioned comfort and let me sweat it out for you as I explore yet another gem of the North Carolina State Park system.
As always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.340059, -80.480442
Mileage Hiked: 3.1 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 95'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 1,560' Max. Elevation: 2,300'
Total Vertical Gain: 810' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 261'