Slate Rock Creek Falls

Slate Rock Creek Loop to Slate Rock (3-16-19)

Slate Rock is a place I’ve been wanting to get back to for a couple of years now. On my last visit I was greeted at the top by a heavy summer thunderstorm which, pardon the pun, dampened my experience somewhat. Slate Rock is another of Pisgah’s plutons, massive open-faced domes of granite formed by volcanic activity in the Southern Appalachians millions of years ago. Of the plutons in the area Slate Rock is rather unknown, being that it’s one of the smaller examples of this geologic feature in the area, but sports as fine a view as any. From its open ledges 180-degree views can be enjoyed of nearby Pilot Rock, the full length of the high-elevation valley known as the Pink Beds, and many of the high peaks and ranges which lie to the north and west. Slate Rock is more commonly climbed from the west, which is the direction I came from on my previous visit, only involving a short 3.5-mile loop. On this hike I was looking to make a bit longer hike of it so I decided rather to arrive from the east, up the valley of Slate Rock Creek then down to the south over Slate Rock itself and returning with a road-walk along Yellow Gap Road…making for a more satisfying 7-mile trek. Thankfully no thunderstorms welcomed me this day and the views I had missed out on last time were all I had hoped for. Let’s get hiking shall we?

The first thing I need to note is the odd nature of the trail nomenclature in this area. The majority of this hike would be spent on the Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail. Despite its name the trail never crosses Slate Rock but rather follows an arcing route to the north it, connecting the valleys to its east and west. To make things more confusing the trail that actually passes over Slate Rock is inexplicably named the Pilot Cove Loop Trail, again a path named for a landmark it never reaches, save for at its southern departure point from the aforementioned Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail. I have no explanation for any of this you just need to be aware of it before you set out or you’re likely to find yourself in the woods scratching your head at some point wondering why the trail you’re on doesn’t actually go anyplace it’s named for. That said I’d be starting this hike at the eastern trailhead for the Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail on Yellow Gap Road (Forest Road 1206). The trailhead is located about 5-miles west of the North Mills River Campground or 6.7-miles east of U.S. 276. The path begins from a small parking area right alongside Slate Rock Creek, which it will follow for over the first two miles of the hike. This is a typical Pisgah stream-side footpath which ascends gradually along its length and, due the relative lack of elevation change, passes through a fairly consistent mix of rhododendron and hardwoods. One highlight along this stretch, however, is Slate Rock Creek Falls which the trail passes just above just shy of the half-mile mark. Only around a dozen feet in height, Slate Rock Creek Falls doesn’t win any awards in size or even aesthetics compared to other nearby cascades but it still offers a welcome place to stop for a minute or two. Continuing up the valley from the waterfall the surroundings don’t change a whole lot. The gradual climb becomes a bit more moderate at about the 1.5-mile mark as the path begins its final ascent up the head of the valley. Slate Rock Creek is crossed via a high log bridge at the 2-mile mark and, a half-mile later the trail crests the ridge and meets the northern end of the Pilot Cove Loop Trail.

Turning left onto the Pilot Cove Loop Trail the route now turns south and east rising and then falling along the ridge which, three-quarter miles later, leads to Slate Rock itself. At Slate Rock the trail opens onto bare open ledges topped by a scattering of pines which seem, impossibly, to be growing right form the rock itself. The ledges generally face north and west, providing incredible views of nearby Pilot Rock and down the length of the Pink Beds. As when visiting other pluton in the area take a measure of care here. The ledges can be slick, and frequently are crisscrossed by damp streams formed by water seeping form the forest above. A slip here would almost certainly be fatal. Use a bit of caution, though, and you’ll be fine. After taking time for a snack and plenty of pictures it’s time to complete the loop. The Pilot Cove Loop Trail departs uphill and 90-degrees left from where it first arrived at the ledges. As it continues south it route gets increasingly steep. Two-thirds of a mile south of Slate Rock begins the steepest portion of the hike, as the trail runs out of ridge and switches back and forth a few times to descend back once again to the Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail. A right turn here would lead 1.5-miles back up to the crest of the ridge to the northern junction of the two trails reached earlier in the hike. To continue this loop, however, make a left here and in a couple tenths of level walking you’ll emerge from the woods at the western trailhead for the Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail along Yellow Gap Road. All that’s left at this point is to follow Yellow Gap Road back east, on a general downhill grade, the remaining 1.5-miles back to where the loop began.

Overall this is a very pleasant hike. The walk up Slate Rock Creek, other than the stop at its waterfall, is rather unremarkable to be honest but at least it’s fairly easy. Slate Rock itself is beautiful and is more than worthy of the effort to reach it regardless of whether you hike it via this loop or the shorter one mentioned earlier. If there’s a downside to this loop it’s of course the extended road-walk required. If you can arrange two vehicles so much the better but, if you’re going solitary like me, it’s a necessary evil sometimes. At least it’s a quick and easy stretch. So, overall I’d definitely recommend a walk in this area. Slate Rock shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the area and wanting views that are a bit less crowded. So, all that said, I now present a loop hike to Slate Rock from the east via the Pilot Cove-Slate Rock and Pilot Cove Loop Trails. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.385248, -82.691992


Route Type:  Loop                      Difficulty:  HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  9.50 )

Hike Length:  7.1 miles                Hike Duration:  2:45

Trailhead Temp:  50'F                 Trail Traffic:  5-10 people

Min. Elevation:  2,800'                 Max. Elevation:  3,960'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,200'           Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  169'


Trails Used (blaze color):  Pilot Cove-Slate Rock (blue), Pilot Cove Loop (yellow)


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