Looking Glass Rock Trail
Hike the Looking Glass Rock Trail to an iconic, domed mountaintop near Brevard, NC, catching incredible, lofty views from the steep-sided, summit.
Looking Glass Rock is especially beautiful at sunrise when its towering presence catches the sun’s golden first rays, a seemingly surreal and beautiful sight from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Looking Glass Rock Overlook. On foggy mornings, clouds hang low in the surrounding valleys, framing the mountain’s golden rock.
While the views of the mountain can be stunning, the views from the mountain are equally beautiful. This adventure scales the mountain on the Looking Glass Rock Trail, climbing 1600 feet on a moderately challenging hike through a beautiful forest. The hike meanders through a fern-filled forest, tunnels through dense rhododendron thickets, and visits an expansive outcrop near the summit that doubles as a helipad for mountain rescues. And at the summit, the mountain’s massive, curved rock outcrops offer simply stunning views, and a gorgeous spot to soak up some sun.
On the mountain, gorgeous, broad views unfold from the steeply pitched, arced outcrops, offering beautiful 180-degree views. The summit area demands some extreme caution, though: the outcrop’s drop is sudden, steep and sheer, falling nearly 400 feet into the valley below. There have been some tragic falls from the mountain in recent years. We admired the views from a conservative distance.
Looking Glass Rock Trail: the hike
The hike departs from a trailhead off the graveled FS 475, just south of Looking Glass Falls on US 276 near Brevard, NC (view maps and driving directions). The trail hikes westbound, beginning a nearly continuous climb to the mountain’s summit. The trail crosses a wood bridge over a small creek, veering northward in a shady, mossy forest filled with leathery-leafed rhododendron.
The hike carves through sharp switchbacks at .5 mile, the climb intensifying as the trail arcs around a campsite. Leafy fern blanket the sun-dappled forest floor. The trail tunnels through a dense rhododendron thicket at 1 mile, veering southbound.
The trail meanders through more than a dozen sharp switchbacks over the next half mile, continuing the nearly unrelenting climb. Views of the mountain’s steep-sided walls begin to emerge through the trees, and the hike passes a trickling creek framed in mountain laurel and rhododendron at 1.5 miles.
The trail reaches a broad rock outcrop at 2 miles. The nearly-level outcrop doubles as a helipad for rescue teams in the summit area. It’s a great place to take a near-summit breather before beginning the final climb.
The trail departs the helipad and continues its climb. The terrain becomes increasingly rockier as the trail winds to the east and then northwest, passing a small campsite at 2.4 miles. The trail reaches the true summit of Looking Glass Rock at 2.6 miles, the site of several large campsites. The trail begins a gradual descent, breaking through the mountaintop tree cover suddenly at 2.75 miles. Views open suddenly, stretching wide from the massive, rounded outcrop.
The smooth, sun-drenched outcrop makes a great spot to admire the view – but from a distance: the summit’s dropoff is steep and sudden. Clouds meander through the brilliant blue sky, rolling over the mountain ridge on the horizon. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds along the ridge, faintly visible in the distance. Directly ahead is the Parkway’s Looking Glass Rock Overlook, often packed on warm-weather days with hikers headed to Skinny Dip Falls. The view is majestic and simply stunning.
After soaking up the gorgeous views, the adventure returns to the trailhead, hiking the Looking Glass Falls Trail in reverse. The return hike is much easier than the outbound, dropping elevation steadily as it winds through the trail’s serpentine switchbacks. The trail reaches the parking area at 5.5 miles, completing the hike.