Hiking in Pinnacle Park, Sylva, North Carolina
Previously used as the Town of Sylva's watershed, this 1,100 acre tract of land is now open as a public park. The Pinnacle Park Foundation was licensed to begin building hiking trails here in 1991, and today, several excellent trails and hiking opportunities exist.
"The Pinnacle", for which the Park is named, is a sharp-topped ridge at an elevation of just over 5000'. Extending south from the main ridge of the Plott Balsam Mountains, it stands over 2500' above the valley floor, and is visible from the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway if you look closely (AS A PASSENGER!). Regardless of whether you spot it, you don't have to look closely to see the Plott Balsams looming high above, and the park covers a swath of land from near the base all the way up to the peaks of the mountain.
From its peak is, not surprisingly, an incredible 360° view of the surrounding mountains and valley in which Sylva sits. You can also clearly see the Exit 85 split between the Expressway and NC 105, and the latter leading off to Western Carolina University. Being so close to Western, it is a popular hiking spot for students as well.
There is one main trail in the park, which starts at the back of the parking area and ends at The Pinnacle itself. (Actually, two paths start at the parking area - one behind a gate - but they both join back together very shortly to become the main trail). It is an old roadbed, so it's wide and rocky, and it's steep - not terribly so, but it's relentlessly uphill.
The trail follows a small stream - Fisher Creek - in the beginning, and crosses some small tributaries near the top. The stream has some water diversion structures and even a small pond and dam near the bottom, remaining from the days when it was used as a drinking water supply. Further up, the stream has some small cascades. The forest is mainly mixed hardwoods with one or two spruces near the summit, and a semi-heath bald on the Pinnacle itself. If you do venture out onto the Pinnacle, be warned that there is some minor rock climbing involved, and the sheer cliffs and drop-offs are to be avoided.
From the main trail, faint side roads and skid paths lead off in all directions. Even though there are no blazes or signs for the main trail, all the side paths are overgrown and it should be obvious which is the main trail, with one exception if you are trying to reach the Pinnacle. There is a split about 2/3 of the way up, and you must make a left hand turn there. A fairly well used path goes right from that unmarked split. Both trails are shown fairly accurately on the USGS Topo map of the area. For these reasons, it would be a good place to make sure you bring a map and a compass "just in case".
From the Sylva Herald:
Pinnacle Park Foundation receives $5,000 to assist in construction of accessible trail (link broken)
Local student clears trail between Pinnacle Park, Waterrock Knob (link broken)
(The second article documented the construction of a trail link to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Waterrock Knob, but the trail is now again overgrown and not recommended. However, a maintained link would make it possible to hike from near the valley floor in Sylva to the top of 6214' Waterrock Knob - presumably an acceptable peak bagging route for the Carolina Mountain Club's South Beyond 6000 program.)
From downtown Sylva, take Skyland Drive east (SR 1432) and turn left onto Fisher Creek Road (SR 1446). The parking area is at the end of Fisher Creek Road. Note: the access drive to the parking is short, but was quite rough last time I visited.