Shining Rock Wilderness
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.