April 2, 2017
On a sunny spring day, the masses will flock to a select few trails in the Pisgah Ranger District: Pink Beds, Graveyard Fields, Looking Glass Rock, Black Balsam Knob. Hidden near these other beautiful destinations is a gem: Pilot Rock Trail.
I hiked three trails: Thompson Creek Trail (#602), Pilot Rock Trail (#321) and Pilot Rock Extension Trail (#321A). I parked off of F.S. 1206 (Yellow Gap Road), near the Thompson trailhead. Roughly four miles from Hwy. 276, the F.S. road is nicely maintained with hardly any potholes. It’s tricky to find the marker for Thompson, but it is close to the horse stables, and ample parking is available. The goal was to hike north on Thompson and then south on Pilot Rock.
Thompson Creek is like a 2.3 mile gut-punch. It hurts like mad, but only lasts for a short time. In fact, the first mile was not too steep, but the last 1.3 miles are unrelenting uphill. The trail is designated hiking-only, and it would be a death sentence to go down this trail on bike or horse. Along the route, I thoroughly enjoyed the bold creek sounds and canopy of mountain laurel overhead. Periodically, a spring flower would show on the trail as the slow procession of spring begins: yellow, purple, white glistening the forest floor.
Once I reached the pinnacle of Thompson, I turned left (north) to grab the short section to the trailhead for Pilot Rock. On Little Bald, views presented themselves in every direction: look east and see Looking Glass Rock and Cedar Rock, look west and see Hendersonville and Asheville, look north and see Mount Pisgah and Cold Mountain. Stunning views and not a soul in sight. Glorious.
The hike down Pilot is not steep, but it’s precarious with the number of rocks and boulders on the trail. Two miles down you go over the namesake rock with sweeping southern views among the ancient knobby pines. A 1/2 mile from the rock is the short, but rough Pilot Rock Extension Trail. This is meant for climbers wanting to access the rock. The granite face is both intimidating and beautiful.
The southern terminus ends at F.S. 1206 at Grassy Lot Gap and it was only a short walk back to my car at Thompson.
Total mileage is 9.34 miles.