North Face Trail (11-24-18)
The North Face Trail is one of three paths which access the base of the famous Looking Glass Rock in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. Looking Glass really needs no introduction. A massive pluton with sheer cliffs rising 600-feet from the surrounding forest, Looking Glass Rock is one of Pisgah’s most popular climbing and hiking destinations. Rightfully so as this massive dome of granite offers incredible vistas from its clifftops or, from a distance, offers a beautiful vision of stone bursting from the forest below. Hiking to the base of Looking Glass Rock isn’t quite as popular among hikers, it’s understandably the climbing community who makes greatest use of the trails to the cliffs. I’m here to tell you though, if you haven’t made one of these short treks to the bottom of Looking Glass, you’re missing out. Particularly if you haven’t hiked the North Face Trail.
The trailhead for this hike is located about midway along Forest Road 475-B which runs from U.S. 276 near the Cradle of Forestry south to Forest Road 475 near the Pisgah Fish Hatchery. The parking area isn’t large, perhaps big enough for three or four cars, and affords a wonderful view up to Looking Glass Rock rising above the forest canopy. The route is pretty straight forward. From the parking area the path begins a short descent to a potentially damp crossing of Gumstand Branch. After the crossing the trail begins a climb of the broad ridge to the north of Looking Glass, first following a small cascading tributary and then emerging into a fairly open deciduous forest. Upon gaining the ridge the massive north face of Looking Glass appears through the trees ahead. It’s an imposing sight, and one that only gets more imposing the closer you hike. Nearing the cliffs the trail dips slightly and then begins a final, fairly steep, climb through the wooded boulder field beneath the North Face itself. The end of the trail is obvious where it reaches a literal wall of rock. The scale of the cliffs is something hard to put into words. A sheer wall of granite rises unbroken for hundreds of feet from the forest floor. In places it even overhangs giving the unsettling impression that they might careen over at any moment. There is plenty of opportunity to explore along the base. I highly recommend scrambling up a short ways to the left from the end of the trail. Some of the highest and most impressive cliffs are found in this direction. No matter where you decide to explore, however, you’re sure to be amazed by your awesome surroundings.
Needless to say I highly recommend this short hike. Of the three trails to reach the base of Looking Glass the North Face Trail is, to me, easily the most dramatic. The hike isn’t all that difficult and the payoff is beyond worth it. That said, I present to you the North Face Trail to the base of Looking Glass Rock. As always…ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.311484, -82.798070
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Hike Length: 1.6 miles Hike Duration: 1:00
Trailhead Temp: 40'F Trail Traffic: NONE!!!
Min. Elevation: 3,000' Max. Elevation: 3,300'
Total Vertical Gain: 400' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 250'
Trails Used (blaze color): North Face Trail (blue)