Spanning over the Laurel Cove Trail, Powderhorn Arch is one of the most striking landmarks within Pine Mountain State Park. This arch can be reached by either hiking downhill via the trailhead along the Chained Rock Trail, or by beginning at the bottom of the mountain near the lower shelter and climbing uphill. As the arch lies right on the halfway point, it really depends on how committed you are to see it as this trail has a strenuous 1,100 ft of elevation gain. Having just hiked to Honeymoon Falls, we followed the main road as it wound its way through the mountains towards Laurel Cove in search of the trailhead.
Along the way we passed the Upper Shelter which contains the Longhunter Trail, home to two secret arches, Lighthouse Arch and Bear Rock Arch. The shelter was closed and the few spaces available to park were already taken, so we decided to revisit this trail on a future trip here.
Once we arrived at the lower shelter, we decided to roam around the amphitheater before getting started. This gorgeous outdoor amphitheater, with a stage located on a small island, surrounded by wood and stone seats, is home to the annual Laurel Cove Music Festival.
Heading back from the amphitheater, we located the 1.75 mile Laurel Cove Trailhead right near the lower shelter parking area. Looking straight up at the near vertical climb, I began to question my choice. The start of the hike from here is physically challenging, not to mention a bit confusing.
With downed trees everywhere and several small maintenance trails coming in and out of the area, we walked past part of the trail at first. Finally, realizing that the two spray painted marks on a small tree meant the trail led to our right, we were able to forge ahead.
Once you head deeper into the heart of this upland forest, the trail becomes a lot more pleasant. Rich stands of rhododendron and mountain laurel tower over us as we begin encountering large stone outcroppings. As I neared the halfway point of this trail, I knew to keep an eye out for the arch.
Rounding a bend in the trail, following the face of a large cliff, we came upon a stone staircase cut into the side of the cliff leading uphill. Reaching the top of the cliff, my jaw dropped to find this unbelievable landmark starring me right in the face.
Powderhorn Arch has a delicate, almost feminine nature to it. This slender sandstone ledge, gently curves over the trail creating a small tunnel. The fact that someone had the imagination to create a hiking trail leading up to and through this arch is amazing. Approaching the arch from above, theres a small path leading to the roof of the arch. The trail is steep and slippery, but manageable. The roof is covered with thick thorny brush and the steep grade makes it very dangerous. A small misstep could cause you to tumble over the side onto the field of boulders below.
One can get an even better appreciation for this natural bridge from the small cliff just past the arch. From here, you’ll get a commanding view of the whole area. While hanging out at the arch we had the pleasure of speaking to several groups of people hiking through. The majority of them had surprisingly decided to hike Laurel Cove Trail from top to bottom, all the way to Chained Rock and back. It turns out the higher elevation portions of this trail contain the best scenery, including an assortment of massive outcroppings.
Although our plan was just to hike to the arch and back down, while hiking to Chained Rock the following morning, we came across the Laurel Cove Trailhead and decided to hike downhill towards the arch. I’m so glad we did as the section is so beautiful. Several small waterfalls run parallel to your path as you encounter a few wide open views of the mountains disappearing into the horizon. A massive, slanted rock shelter near the trailhead will greet you once you finish this trail, making it a great place to rest and gather the will to turn back around and head down the mountain.
Next, we’ll be head back up the mountain to find Rock Hotel. Located along an easy 0.8 mile loop, Rock Hotel is an ancient rock shelter that, according to archeological evidence, was once inhabited by prehistoric Native Americans. Stay tuned for our next adventure and see y’all on the trails!