On the first Sunday in July I found myself at the highest peak in North Carolina. That next Tuesday my mother shared a story from Eddie Bauer about two women on a mission to climb to the highest natural point of every State…in 50 days! (link below) Instantly I knew I had to add that to my personal to do list. I wouldn’t do it in 50 days but that triggered a whole new drive in me and by Wednesday I had my next weekend trip planned around the highest peak in South Carolina. I had a friend cancel last minute so I was solo yet again but was up for the challenge.
When looking at the surrounding areas of Sassafras Mountain I saw Lake Jocassee and a few photos of it from a high elevation. I had to find that spot! It’s called Jumping Off Rock and that was my first destination. If you are coming from Atlanta you want to take 11 to 178 to Horsepasture Road. It’s about a 50 minute drive one-way on uneven gravel so I had my doubts but was way too interested not to try. Maybe 1 mile in I saw a Jeep Wrangler try and drive over a fallen tree but got stuck and almost fell off the cliff. Luckily they had a tow strap so I pulled them out then we scoped out the fallen tree. There were severe thunderstorms the night before and this French couple was trying to extract their kids who camped the night before and were stuck. After I helped (watch) axe down the tree I decided to come back the next morning when I knew the road would be clear. Next stop Sassafras. That’s fun to say.
Like Mount Mitchell in North Carolina you can almost drive all the way up to Sassafras Mountain the highest peak in South Carolina. Only difference is half the elevation. The view is almost 360-degrees and the best of it looks at North Carolina as it’s really close to the border. There is just a something special about standing at the highest point of something (or any peak really) that makes you feel like you are on top of the world.
After checking that off the list I was headed to the Pisgah National Forest to hike Looking Glass Rock. I thought I remembered the trailhead being after the falls but I was wrong and took a 45-minute detour on a gravel road. At least I got one cool picture out of it.
The hike itself is 3.2 miles one-way with 1649ft of elevation gain. Made it to the top without stopping and once you get to the huge granite platoon just past the summit you’ll be graced with a spectacular view.
After a hard earned summit sandwich I started back downhill. I didn’t make it far before finding a spur trail that had more granite to climb so I took advantage and this was the most unique view of the hike!
Now I hurry down the trail, hop in the truck and drive towards the Blueridge Parkway. I headed south to a few overlooks of Looking Glass Rock then to milepost 420 for a hike to Shining Rock on the Art Loeb Trail.
I started around 4:30pm and boy was I in for a treat. This was the best hike I’ve been on in the southeast or at least right up there with Mt. LeConte in the neighboring Smoky Mountains. My goal was to find the best camp spot for sunrise. Shinning Rock is 5 miles from the trailhead so I had plenty of real estate to work with. Within the first mile you’ll be over 6000’ following the ridge line of Black Balsam Knob.
Over the next 2 miles it felt like a roller coaster going over 2 more 6000’ peaks (Tennent Mtn and Grassy Cove) then down into different gaps but since the ridge tops were almost devoid of trees I had non-stop 360 degree views!
The last 2 miles are similar to the beginning but with more trees coverage and rhododendron. I always struggle saying and spelling that word.
Once you see a cluster of giant quartz rock follow the spur trail to the right of the largest rock. After climbing up you are blessed with a stunning view and for me a delicious turkey sandwich. I didn’t run into many people but I did at the Shinning Rock Edge and they happened to be from Atlanta too!
It was just past 7pm and I decided the best spot was all the way back at Black Balsam Knob. So I retraced my steps, well kind of. I’d encourage the use of a map here as there are plenty of spur trails off the Art Loeb. There’s also the Investor Trail which zigs and zags with it so I was all over the place. Luckily it’s all beautiful especially as the sun begins to fade behind the mountains.
I made it back to the summit of Black Balsam Knob just in time for sunset but when I went to drink from my bladder there was no water to be found. Another trip means another lesson. I happened to pass by a group of campers so I told them my dumb mistake and they actually had a spare bottle to give me. Thank goodness because my other option was a 2 mile hike to the car. Once hydrated I found perfect spot to pitch the tent. I wouldn’t lay your sleeping pad in the tall grass here as I found little red bugs which I think were clover mites all over it. I had to shake everything out of my tent and then crush any survivors. That doesn’t make you feel comfortable but I was beat so I was able to fall asleep and wake up early for some amazing colors.
I took my time packing up camp, taking in the majestic scene and of course a banana. There were clouds above and below the mountains with multicolored light peeping in where it could. It was so gorgeous! Very hard to leave but the entire 2 miles back to the parking lot had incredible sights. Mountains are best in the morning!
After a successful trek I was ready for my truck to take over for my legs. Curiosity got the best of me though. I couldn’t pass the nearby Devil’s Courthouse Trail even though I was there earlier that year. It is very short and leads to a great view that’s ever changing so I’d say it was worth it.
Before heading home I had to try and get to Jumping Off Rock. I’m hoping the guy from yesterday cleared the way and he did!! The 50 min gravel road took years off my trucks life but the destination made it all worthwhile. The view of Lake Jocassee is one that I’ll always remember. A morning bonus was hearing only birds and their lovely tunes.
After a little reminiscing and taking this view in from every possible angle I would head home to complete the trip. The Maroon Monsoon and I were tired and happy!