Shining Rock Wilderness Area - Pisgah National Forest
Shining Rock became one of the original components of the Wilderness System in September 1964. It is the largest Wilderness area in North Carolina. Many mountains in the Wilderness exceed 5,000 feet and three peaks exceed 6,000 feet. The Shining Rock Ledge (or ridge) forms the backbone of this area. A series of high ridges extends east and west from the north-south oriented Shining Rock Ledge. The Pigeon River drains this area with many tributaries starting on the high mountains, and it splits around this area into the East and West Forks.
In this area, the mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway forms a big "U" and the Shining Rock wilderness occupies the eastern half of the U. The Middle Prong wilderness occupies the western half, and right down the middle runs NC route 215, which is the only thing that separates the two wilderness areas. Most of the mountains are steep and rugged. But where the Shining Rock Ledge meets the Pisgah Ledge at Black Balsam Mountain to the south (the bottom of the U), there are relatively level areas and high valleys such as Graveyard Fields and Flat Laurel Creek on either side.
There are three main access points for trails within this Wilderness. First and foremost is the Black Balsam area near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Although this is not part of the Wilderness itself, The Art Loeb (moderate) and Ivestor Gap (easy) trails lead into the wilderness area from here. This trailhead receives a tremendous amount of use, for good reason. Another popular trailhead is at the crossing of the Big East Fork Pigeon River by US 276. Several longer trails head up the ridges into the heart of the wilderness from here, and their beginnings are relatively easy, becoming more and more difficult the further you travel. And finally, for those wishing to summit a 6000' peak by starting at the base, try the trailhead at the base of Cold Mountain at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. Trails starting from there are all steep and strenuous.
Places to Stay
CampingDispersed camping is allowed anywhere in the Shining Rock Wilderness, but there are some things you should keep in mind. The high ridges between Black Balsam Mountain and Shining Rock have some great campsites, but they're open and very exposed. Temperature will be much colder up there than at lower elevations. Water can be non-existent during dry periods on these high areas, and they are extremely crowded, so finding a spot to plop your tent can become a challenge!
Because of the catastrophic fires of the previous century (which created the mountain balds), fires are now prohibited within the Shining Rock Wilderness Area. Use a camp stove for cooking instead. Also, group size is limited to 10 people.
The closest developed campgrounds are at Davidson River, Mount Pisgah and Sunburst, all within about 20 minutes' drive of the trailheads.