Pinnacle Park in Sylva, NC: hiking the West Fork Trail to The Pinnacle
Hike the West Fork Trail at Pinnacle Park in Sylva, North Carolina, climbing to exceptional views from The Pinnacle, a high-elevation, knobby summit.
The journey to the summit makes for a fantastic, strenuous, upward hike through a scenic, creek-filled forest on Pinnacle Park’s West Fork Trail and Pinnacle Trail. The hike is challenging, but exceptionally rewarding. The trails meander through a beautiful hardwood forest, and the summit views at the end of this out-and-back hike are simply unforgettable. The Pinnacle’s sun-drenched rock outcrops offer a great spot to soak in views of the nearby Plott Balsams, the town of Sylva, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains on the northern horizon.
The hike racks up over 1800 feet of elevation gain in the outbound 3.5 miles, so it’s a challenging one, for sure – and the hike’s initial rocky climb along the West Fork Trail’s boulder-crusted old roadbed makes for a great, calf-burning workout. But The Pinnacle’s views are a fantastic, rewarding payoff for the effort.
Pinnacle Park West Fork Trail to The Pinnacle: the hike
The hike begins at the Pinnacle Park trailhead, north of Sylva, NC (view maps and driving directions). A wooden kiosk marks the trailhead; the hiking trails and backcountry sites at Pinnacle Park are free, but require a permit (available at the trailhead kiosk) before starting the hike. Permit completed, the hike skirts around a metal gate, following the trail northbound. In just under a tenth of a mile, the trail reaches a small spillway dam and waterfall on Fisher Creek, the remains of the Sylva’s former watershed that occupied Pinnacle Park before its conversion to recreation land in the 1990s.
The hike begins a nearly relentless climb to the Plott Balsam ridgeline, following purple and gold trail blazes through a ferny, mossy hardwood forest. The trail passes a small campsite before reaching a trail fork at .3 mile; from here, this hike veers left, following the West Fork Trail and hiking northwest. The sound of falling water fills the forest as the West Fork Trail continues to climb elevation, reaching a towering, split rock outcrop with a enormous fissure at .5 miles.
The West Fork Trail arcs to the southwest at .6 mile, crossing Fisher Creek and passing a small series of cascading waterfalls.
The trail meanders through wide switchbacks, following the route of an old, rocky, boulder-filled, gravel road bed. The elevation climb intensifies as the trail climbs steadily upward, gaining over 1100 feet of elevation over the next course of 1.3 miles. The hike passes large, towering, mossy rock outcrops as it climbs and winds, and passes a trickling creek on trail right at 1.6 miles. Just after passing a small, mossy waterfall, the West Fork Trail meets a signed trail junction at 1.9 miles; from here, this hike turns left, hiking The Pinnacle Trail westbound.
Towering, old-growth oak shade gnarly-branched rhododendron as The Pinnnacle Trail begins to level at 2.25 miles.
The trail’s gently rolling elevation is a welcome break from the nearly continuous climb. The Pinnacle Trail is scenic in every season, with through-the-trees views framed by towering hardwoods. But it’s an especially beautiful hike in late spring, with the blooming of the trail’s abundant rhododendron, and in fall, when autumn paints the towering deciduous forest in vibrant hues.
The trail arcs southbound, winding through the forest. The hike rolls over a small knob at 2.8 miles, tunneling through dense rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets. The trail reaches a campsite at 3.2 miles. The hike continues on the opposite, south side of the campsite, ducking through dense rhododendron on a tight, narrow singletrack trail. And, suddenly, the trail breaks through the cover, the sun-drenched summit of The Pinnacle dead ahead.
A careful scramble up The Pinnacle offers stunning views, but the summit’s drop-offs are steep and sudden, so some caution is needed to navigate out to the craggy peak. The town of Sylva is easily visible to the south, and the towering peak of Blackrock Mountain, another of Pinnacle Park’s hiking destinations, dominates the near horizon to the northeast. Exceptional, mountainous views wrap The Pinnacle in every direction.
After soaking up the views (and grabbing a few Instagram-worthy shots), the hike flips in reverse, following The Pinnacle Trail and West Fork Trail in a nearly continuous downhill trek to the trailhead. The hike reaches the Pinnacle Park trailhead at 6.5 miles, completing the adventure.
Pinnacle Park West Fork Trail: Directions & Details
Free parking is available at the trailhead; donations accepted (and encouraged). Permit required (free; fill out the provided form at the trailhead).
35.422617, -83.191217 // N35 25.357 W83 11.473