Shining Rock Mountain: hiking the Ivestor Gap Trail
Explore North Carolina's Shining Rock Wilderness and the brilliant, white quartz encrusted mountain of Shining Rock on the Ivestor Gap Trail, the easiest route to this beautiful, iconic summit.
While there’s many ways to the summit, thanks to a large trail network in the Shining Rock Wilderness, this hike follows the Ivestor Gap Trail on one of the least strenuous climbs to Shining Rock. Dodging the rolling (though view-packed) route over the nearby balds on the Art Loeb Trail, the Ivestor Gap Trail follows a railroad-grade roadbed through the wilderness, maintaining a moderately level elevation for the majority of the hike. It’s not without its own, visit-worthy views, though: the trail catches beautiful vistas throughout the hike, and the views from Shining Rock are gorgeous on a clear day.
(Weather changes can be seemingly immediate in this remote stretch of wilderness, though – so if you go, be sure to pack for the worst and include emergency and wayfinding gear, too.)
Ivestor Gap Trail to Shining Rock: the hike
The hike departs from the Ivestor Gap Trail and Sam Knob Trail parking area, located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420 (view maps and driving directions). Hiking northeast from the trailhead, the hike skirts around a metal gate following a rocky, graveled, old railroad bed and passing a small, trickling spring. Wildflowers thrive alongside the trail in warm-weather months, stretching high into the abundant sunshine.
The Ivestor Gap Trail veers northbound, beginning a short, but steady, climb at .7 mile. The trail begins a descent a 1 mile, weaving through wide switchbacks. The hike reaches a sandy, rocky clearing at 1.3 miles, passing a fragrant grove of balsam fir, and catching gorgeous views of the surrounding, rolling wilderness from a craggy rock outcrop.
The trail veers to the northeast, descending through a mossy forest shaded by balsam fir. The hike passes a junction with the Fork Mountain Trail at 1.7 miles, and briefly adjoins the Art Loeb Trail at 1.8 miles before splitting off to the left. The Ivestor Gap Trail rejoins the Art Loeb Trail for a second time at 2.25 miles, reaching the signed entrance to the Shining Rock Wilderness, and again splits to the left.
The Ivestor Gap Trail runs nearly level over the next course of 1.5 miles, hiking through tight singletrack through tall brush before widening to an old, rocky road bed. Though views are limited in this segment of the hike, the forest is beautiful, framed in fragrant balsam fir and abundant wildflowers. Fog rolls through these level elevations frequently, adding to the beauty of the forest.
The trail veers eastbound at 3.9 miles, beginning to climb elevation. The hike reaches the open, grassy Shining Rock Gap at 4.3 miles, hanging the second left to hike northbound to the Shining Rock summit. The trail climbs through dense thickets of mountain laurel, rhododendron and blueberries, and tunnels through a grove of balsam fir. The forest floor is littered with chunks of white quartz, gleaming in the lush forest.
Several side trails scramble over large, white boulders to climb to the mountain’s actual summit – all moderately challenging. After the scramble, the hike rises above the tree line, catching stunning views of the surrounding wilderness from the white-crusted Shining Rock.
The summit makes for an exceptional spot to soak in some scenic beauty and catch a break before the return hike. After descending from the summit, the hike follows its outbound route on the Ivestor Gap Trail in reverse, reaching the trailhead at just over 9 miles. (Or, for a slightly longer but more view-packed alternate route, hike the Art Loeb Trail from Shining Rock, rolling over the grassy, wildflower-covered balds of Flower Knob, Grassy Cove Top, Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob. From Black Balsam Knob, follow the Art Loeb Spur Trail to the Ivestor Gap / Sam Knob trailhead and parking area.)