John Rock Loop

  • Highlights: Sweeping vistas from granite summit, wildflowers
  • Distance: 5.6 mile out-and-back
  • Elevation change: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate/Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: From US 276 turn onto FS Road 475, turn left at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education; trail head at end of parking lot on the left.
  • Website: US Forest Service
  • Beer Pairings: Ecusta Brewing Company—Eddy Out ESB & First Descent IPA

The Hike:

John Rock is virtually the shadow of the more popular Looking Glass Rock—both physically and literally. In our opinion, this gives John Rock two advantages: it is less crowded and it has great views of the iconic Looking Glass Rock. The trailhead is located just down the road from Looking Glass in the wildlife center and fish hatchery parking lot. The trail is well marked and well maintained.

Begin the hike on the far left side of the parking area near the trail kiosk on the orange-blazed Cat Gap Loop. Take the footbridge over the Davidson River—the first of several river and stream crossings. The Davidson is popular with fishermen and the first part of the trail the river is not far away. Wildflowers dot the forest floor and the trail begins to ascend gradually. 

The trail crosses over an old forest road and at 1.2 miles is a junction with the John Rock Trail. Turn right and follow the yellow-blazed John Rock Trail through a sea of rhododendron. The climb becomes steeper with several stream crossings. At just under 2 miles the trail levels out near the summit. Dogs should be on a leash as the sheer granite face of John Rock is unfenced and unforgiving.

The summit of John Rock at 3,209’ can be confusing. Many small spur trails lead off to the right, some with great views, others to camp sites. Explore the various spur trails and watch your footing. Some end abruptly at the edge of the cliff. Off to the north looms Looking Glass Rock and the Blue Ridge. 

The views range from amazing to fantastic. Continue on the John Rock Trail where it rejoins the Cat Gap Loop Trail at 2.9 miles. Turn left and follow the orange-blazed Cat Gap Loop back to the parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

Ecusta Brewing Company in nearby Brevard has indoor and outdoor seating and is very dog friendly. The outdoor beer garden is next to the Davidson River, the same river than ran next to the John Rock Trail. They do not serve food but they do sell beer.

Kathy really like First Descent, a west coast IPA with 55 IBUs making it a nice balance between hoppiness and bitterness. Pete liked Eddy Out ESB, an English-style Extra Special Bitter. This classic British ale was full of hop character, but not extreme bitterness. As our bartender explained “it’s elegantly complex, yet refreshingly simple”. She was right.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe and be responsible.