The 1.0 mile trail to summit Craggy Pinnacle is one of the easiest and most rewarding hikes of Craggy Gardens. As one of the busiest areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Craggy Gardens is home to one of the rarest and most unique ecosystems in eastern North America. Made up of the Great Craggy Mountain Range and the Big Ivy, this area is filled with virgin old growth forest, cascading 70 foot tall waterfalls, and stunning mountain vistas that stretch into the horizon. With dozens of miles of trails, every visit here should start with a quick climb to see one of the most photographed sites in all of North Carolina.
Craggy Pinnacle Trail | 1.0 Miles
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At 5,817 ft in elevation, Craggy Pinnacle is the third tallest peak of the Great Craggy Mountains, which is a subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains just 20 miles north of the city of Asheville. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs atop nearly the entire range, which borders Mount Mitchell State Park, offering easy access to some of the most picturesque parts of the area. While most of the trails in Craggy Gardens are intertwined, the trail to Craggy Pinnacle stands alone in its own parking lot just north of the Visitors Center between milepost 364-367. Even though the trail to summit the peak is only 1.0 mile long, there are several other short spurs that lead to a Lower and Upper Overlook of Craggy Dome, the tallest peak in the range.
Come here early in the morning or late in the afternoon and chances are that this entire area will be covered in a dense blanket of fog. Spend enough time here and you’ll start to appreciate the daily movements of the fog banks as it slowly begins to accumulate and disperse itself over the Great Craggy Mountains near dusk every evening.
Just like clockwork, as soon as dawn begins to break, a gust of wind will sweep into the range and slowly brush aside the fog to reveal its immense beauty. I’ve traveled through many mountain ranges and this is the only one I can remember witnessing fog have a life of its own like that. An early morning or late evening stop at the Lane Pinnacle Overlook, the 8th tallest peak of the range, is a great way to witness this.
Traveling from the town of Brevard, I approached Craggy Pinnacle from the south along the parkway. There are no signs advertising the trails here so you just have to now that it’s the last pullout before exiting Craggy Gardens to the north. The large, sloped parking lot can accommodate 60 vehicles and on a busy weekend, you’ll be lucky to grab a spot.
A quick glance around at the stunning scenery, viewable from the comfort of your car, is enough for some people who are unaware that a short trail winds its way up to an even better vantage point. At the top of the parking area is a set of stone cut steps leading up a grassy bald to the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. This is as neat and manicured as the trail gets for the duration of the hike.
Its early fall and the area has seen a battering of torrential downpours from several tropical storms. What is normally a dirt trail has been churned into a hot mess of thick mud anywhere that the drainage is poor. This trail travels most of the way through a shaded tunnel of gnarled trees, older than most of the visitors here. At lower elevations, the forest takes on a haunted appearance from all of the severely weathered and twisted trees that hunch over to create tunnels along the path.
Made up of mostly beech, mountain ash, birch, and buckeye, these trees must contend with ice storms, strong winds, and a short growing season that stunts their growth. With that being said, there is something uniquely beautiful about it. Being early fall, mountain ash is in full bloom and lighting up the forest like Christmas lights with its bright red blooms.
The balds of these mountains are exposed to such extreme weather, that only hardy bushes such as heaths, blueberries, and rhododendrons survive in the upper elevations closer to the summit. Looking at the peaks from a distance, one would think that its carpeted by a short layer of grass, but those are in fact bushes. Bringing people here for nearly a hundred years is the real star of Craggy Gardens, the Catawba Rhododendron.
Named for the Catawba Indians who lived east of the Catawba River, this bush is famous for its spectacular pink and purple flowers which bloom June thought July. Local lore has it that you can tell the weather by the furling of their shiny evergreen leaves. The leaves typically begin to curl inward as the temperature drops. When its leaves are as tight as a cigar, it is said to be below twenty degrees. Another fascinating aspect of Craggy Pinnacle is the rare plantlifew that exists on its summit. Tucked in between slivers of rocks just off trail are alpine relics, remnants of the flora that existed during the last ice age. As glaciers retreated northward, the plants remained trapped on the high elevation peaks of the Southern Appalachians, eventually evolving into distinct species unique to the area. While some folks find it harmless to climb onto the rocks beyond the overlook at the summit, they are inadvertently trampling these fragile plants, which are listed as endangered and have seen a 63% decline in the last few decades. So for your safety and the protection of the fragile ecosystem, do not climb onto the other side of the overlook.
Our steep and rocky climb up the 240 feet of elevation gain from the lower slope leads up to a grassy meadow located just below the summit. This is where several side paths dart off to various unique vantage points such as the Lower Overlook. Looking up at the peak of Craggy Pinnacle, I spotted the main overlook just above the trail leading to it. Another short trek over a few boulder piles that need to be scrambled, while avoiding the deepest of mud pits and you’re at the summit of Craggy Pinnacle. Take one step onto this overlook and you’ll be floored by how absolutely breathtaking the view is. The lighting couldn’t be anymore perfect as the sun highlights the distant valleys and peaks beyond the Great Craggy Mountains.
Encompassing 16,000 acres, the Great Craggy Mountains were once in the running to become a National Park behind the Great Smoky Mountains. After witnessing the immense beauty of this landscape, I can understand why. As of the writing of this article, a bill in Congress is pending approval to reclassify this entire area as The Craggy Wilderness and National Scenic Area. With support from a coalition of over 120 organizations, the act would permanently protect old growth forests, iconic trails, a pristine watershed, and the rare plant and animal species that call this place home. For us visiting, it would mean preserving the most photographed expanse along the entire stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Turning my gaze southeast towards the entrance of the Craggy Pinnacle parking lot, I spy my next trail. Peaking at 6,105 feet, Craggy Dome stands watch over the entire Great Craggy Mountains as the tallest in the range. As one of the 40 peaks over 6,000 feet in elevation of the Southern Appalachians, it’s a must do summit for any peak bagger who wants to be entered into the South Beyond 6000 Club. To reach the peak, one has to ascend nearly 500 feet over the course of 0.50 miles along the Reese Trail, a short spur of the Mountains To Sea Trail. Stay tuned for this upcoming article and until next time, see y’all on the trail!