Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Craggy Pinnacle

With 360° views of western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the 1.4-mile Craggy Pinnacle hike offers some of the best views on the section of Parkway east of Asheville. Along with the Craggy Gardens picnic area, Visitor Center and Craggy Gardens trail, the Pinnacle Overlook and trail provides a full day of hiking and recreation within a small area – a day-trip to the mountains just 1.5 hours from the Upstate!

This popular trail ascends just a short stretch from the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook at milepost 364.1, and is well known for the colorful display the Catawba rhododendrons put on in June. However you would be remiss in discounting this hike for autumn foliage viewing, as the high-elevation birch forest, long-distance vistas and Burnett Reservoir (also known as North Fork Reservoir, a water source for Asheville) views offer up a spectrum of color each year.

By the time we finished our explorations of Craggy Gardens and driven the two miles east, the low clouds and fog had lifted, revealing generous views from the Craggy Pinnacle parking lot. We started our Pinnacle hike from the upper parking lot, admiring the view of Burnett Reservoir from the grassy area before entering a tunnel of rhododendron. Most of the area was a heath bald, but in recent years without the influence of wildfire or grazing a high-elevation hardwood forest of birch and mountain ash has taken over, leaving only small areas of heath bald.

We soon passed an enormous, but stunted birch seemingly growing out of rock. The diminutive stature of the trees is due to high winds and cold temperatures that commonly occur at this high elevation.

Next was a birch on the right that had been felled in some past storm but is still alive, a testament that life finds a way, even in the harsh conditions on the mountain.

Across from trail is a spring that is for some reason partially enclosed in a concrete box. This is the headwaters for Waterfall Creek, a tributary of which plunges over the waterfall that is a 4-mile hike from the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, Douglas Falls.

You’ll know you’re a little over halfway when the trail takes a sharp turn left around a rock outcrop, with a small cave under the rock and a great view from the top of Craggy Dome.

A little further you’ll notice a sign warning visitors to stay on the trail, discouraging hikers from making their own trails and damaging the sensitive habitat of the heath bald. Multiple endangered species call the Pinnacle home, and veering from the official trail not only damages fragile plants and endangers trespassers (and their possible rescuers), but might result in the closure of the entire trail. The Blue Ridge Parkway General Management Plan / Final Environmental Impact Statement released in 2013 suggests a complete closure of this trail with a replacement trail to the top of nearby Craggy Dome as a solution to the perpetual damage suffered by Craggy Pinnacle from trail erosion and damage caused by wayward hikers. Currently the trail remains open, but with continued disregard of posted signs it might not stay that way for long.

During the summer the trail would provide a snack on the go as it climbs higher through the heath bald filled with rhododendron, mountain laurel, and blueberry bushes. A split in the trail announces the final stretch, the left going to the upper overlook and the right to the lower overlook. Before you know it, you’ve reached the summit, with a viewing area and seating for you take safely take in the views. To your north is Craggy Dome and the Black Mountains (including Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi), to your west, the State Line Ridge, south is the Craggy Gardens visitor center (and the roof of the chestnut-log shelter) and the Blue Ridge Parkway with the Pisgah range in the background, and east is the Reservoir and Graybeard Mountain. Again, please stay within the overlook! Climbing over the wall for that Instagram photograph isn’t worth the damage to the sensitive plant communities, nor the cost of the ticket or hospital bill – not to mention ruining it for the rest of us if the trail gets closed.

We enjoyed a snack along with the views and then packed up, returning the way we came. We were ready to enjoy lunch at Craggy Gardens picnic area, after which we would slowly head back towards Asheville with the plan to stop at multiple overlooks. This section of the Parkway is rife with Visitor Centers, so we had our pick where to stop for the boys to turn in their completed Jr. Ranger folders, but this exploration of the Folk Art Center and Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville would conclude our fall foliage viewing on the Parkway for the year.


  1. Once the sun came out, the Fall Colors showed up there on the hike to the pinnacle... That is neat.. I'm so glad that the fog cleared and that you enjoyed some sunshine. We love the pinnacle hike....


    1. It was a relief that the clouds/fog dissipated... The Craggy Gardens hike was suited for a foggy morning, but with the Pinnacle, the views are really what we go for. And of course the rhododendron. And when the blueberries are ripe!


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