Snowball Trail to Hawkbill Rock (9-3-18)
Hawkbill Rock (not to be confused with Hawksbill Mountain of Linville Gorge) offers a pleasant short day hike from the Craggy Gardens area off the Blue Ridge Parkway. A lesser known destination, though certainly not unknown, Hawkbill Rock is a tiny open ledge off the west side of Snowball Mountain which commands some striking views across the neighboring valley of Reem’s Creek and the mountains beyond. The route to the ledges primarily follows the attractively-named Snowball Trail which is a moderately strenuous but easy-to-follow footpath. The only downside to this hike is that it’s literally one of those “uphill both ways” type of walks. This is due to the fact that the trail climbs up and over 5,360-foot Snowball Mountain right smack dab in the middle of it. It’s not an overly difficult obstacle but it is something to consider as it adds more effort than you might expect from a short three-mile hike. Trust me, though, it’s worth it. The views from the ledges of Hawkbill are beautiful and unique. The 270-degree panorama from the edge looks down and across the beautiful valley of Reem’s Creek with neighboring Lane Pinnacle and Rich Knob dominating the horizon to the south. It’s a wonderful place.
The trailhead for this hike is located at Beetree Gap which is located a short distance off the Blue Ridge Parkway up the Craggy Gardens Access Road. A wide bend in the road is the location of the trail crossing for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along with a small parking area. To start, follow the MST west…a small sign is located just inside the wood-line pointing the way to both the Snowball Trail and Hawk’s Bill Rock. The trail makes a short climb into a beautiful high-elevation yellow birch forest and, barely a tenth-of-a-mile in, it reaches a junction where the MST makes a hard left while the Snowball Trail begins straight ahead. The Snowball Trail heads west along the ridge and soon begins the moderate ascent of Snowball Mountain itself. Footing is good and the grade is never extreme but the ascent is still a good workout. About halfway up, just past a sharp right-hand switchback under a fallen tree, there’s a nice limited view back across to the south. It’s a good place to pause and catch your breath. The climb continues and soon, at about the ¾-mile mark, the trail crests Snowball Mountain. There are no views from the summit as the trees are thick surrounding the trail so there’s no real reason to pause at the top. From the summit the trail immediately begins a moderate descent. Higher elevation spruce trees mix in at first but soon give way to rhododendron and laurel as the ridge gets increasingly narrow. As the route bottoms out the surroundings get a bit more rugged as there is more rock underfoot and large outcrops appear in the trees nearby. Just before reaching Hawkbill the route starts a steep final climb. In wet or icy weather this last stretch could be tricky, if not downright dangerous. Scrambling up bare rock views begin to be had to the left, teasing what is to come above. A short time later the trail tops out on Hawkbill Rock itself. Here, the Snowball Trail continues north towards the old fire tower atop Little Snowball Mountain (no views) while a short spur breaks left to the open ledges. As mentioned earlier the views are stunning. Snowball Mountain is seen to the east, Lane Pinnacle rises straight ahead, while the valley of Reem’s Creek stretches away to the west towards the French Broad River Valley. On the clearest of days the Pisgah Ridge and Great Balsam Mountains can be seen to the extreme southwest. It’s a wonderful place to kick back, enjoy a mountaintop breeze, and soak in the stunning natural surroundings.
Eventually it will be time to head back, however. Getting back to the trailhead simply requires retracing the hike in. You’ll have to climb Snowball Mountain for a second time, making the going a bit tiring (this is one of those fun “uphill both ways” hikes) but it only last a half mile or so. Before long you’ll be on the final descent through the beautiful forest leading back to your car. Overall this is a very pleasant hike. It’s not very long but it gives you just enough of a work out to feel you’ve accomplished something by the end. The scenery offered up at Hawkbill Rock is incredible as well, making the trek all the more worth-while. If you find yourself in the Craggy Gardens area with a couple hours burn I’d highly recommend checking out this lesser known hiking destination. You won’t regret it. So, without further adieu, I present to you the hike out to Hawkbill Rock via the Snowball Trail. As always, I hope you enjoy…
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.699898, -82.398862
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Hike Length: 3.0 miles Hike Duration: 1:30
Trailhead Temp: 65'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 4,820' Max. Elevation: 5,360'
Total Vertical Gain: 850' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 283'
Trails Used (blaze color): Mountains-to-Sea (white), Snowball (yellow)