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Pinnacle, North Carolina, United States

Summit trails at Pilot Mountain State Park, North Carolina

Best hikes near the top of Pilot Mountain, the signature peak northwest of Winston-Salem.

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 3.5 miles / 5.6 km
Duration: 1-3 hours
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Overview: You don't expect to see a mountain popping up from the gently rolling landscape of the North Carolina Triad (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point). But Pilot Mountain is like that: full of surprises.

For hikers, the best surprise is that the trails, terrain and views from on high are good enough to make you forget you're a few hours east of the Appalachian Mountains.

The summit of Pilot Mountain (2,421 feet) is primarily a tourist attraction -- large parking lot, crowds of families wandering around soaking in the views (on clear days you can see Winston-Salem's skyline), easy walks to the overlooks. Invariably, though, you'll see a few veteran hiker-types lacing up their thick-lugged boots and hitting the trails.

Roughly 3.5 miles of trail track through Pilot Mountain's summit. Most of the trails are easy to moderate, but hiking all 3.5 feels more like six when you're done. It's an excellent workout.

Best time to go: Late October, when the leaves change. Next best: Early winter and early spring, when bare trees open even more vistas. Summer is the worst, though you can usually get a good like in during the morning hours before the heat gets blistering.

Tips: Try this route if you're hiking all 3.5 miles (See POIs for full directions):

1) Out-and-back to Sassafras Trail.
2) Parking lot to Ledge Springs Loop.
3) Right turn on Jomeokee Trail, loop around Big Pinnacle, return to main park pathway.
4) Turn left, stop by Little Pinnacle Overlook before returning to parking lot.

(An optional route is to take Jomeokee Trail first, then get on the Ledge Springs Loop -- however, this takes you through all the best terrain first and leaves a long, mundane uphill slog at the end. Starting on Ledge Spring gives you a nice warm-up on a descent, then a vigorous climb through fascinating terrain, then ends at the park's centerpiece.)

Use extreme care near the cliffs -- a fall will be fatal.

Avoid the summit during late summer afternoons, when thunderstorms raise risk of lightning strikes.

Signs at the entrance to the park and at the summit inform you when the summit closes; be sure you return to your car in time.

What to bring:
* Plenty of water if you're taking on the Ledge Springs Loop.
* Weather-appropriate clothing -- it can be very breezy at the top, but otherwise your main concerns are staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
* Park map

Points of Interest


Parking lot

Mind the signs on the way in saying when the parking lot closes, and be sure to end your hike by then.

From the parking lot, go east to a large, wide area leading to Sassafras and Jomeokee Trails, and the Little Pinnacle Overlook.

Bathroom, drinking fountain

These are to your left as you're facing the large open pathway going eastward.

The bathroom was being renovated in the summer of 2010 and the water fountain was behind a tape barrier, so there may be no water supply at the top until these repairs are complete.

Little Pinnacle Overlook

A short, stony path climbs gradually to an overlook taking in views of the Big Pinnacle and the Sauratown Mountains beyond -- watch for migrating raptors if you're there in September. More than a dozen varieties of hawks, eagles and other predatory birds stop here on their travels.

Sassafras Trail

.5 mile, moderate. This loop hike provides an excellent vista overlooking the Sauratown Montains.

Though it's only a half-mile, the route can be harder than you expect, as it descends and ascends rather steeply.

Jomeokee Trail

.8 mile, easy-moderate. This trail circles Pilot Mountain's Big Pinnacle (the peak is closed to hikers and climbers to protect its unique ecosystem).

If you're interested only in circling the Big Pinnacle, go ahead and hike this one first. If you're trying the longer, more difficult Ledge Springs Trail, save the Jomeokee for the end of your hike.

Ledge Springs Loop

2.2 miles, strenuous. Descends 500 feet in the first mile, ascends 500 in the second. Passes the park's prized climbing walls.

After you see a sign for Grindstone trail, bear left till you see the Ledge Springs Trail sign and continue down Ledge Spring Trail.

On the way down you'll see many paths to cliffs overlooking the nearby farmland. Many of these paths are used by rock climbers, so try to stay out of their way.

Ledge Springs-Grindstone Trail junction

Ledge Springs Trail takes a sharp left turn after about a mile.

After the turn, the trail descends a short distance, then begins climbing in earnest -- 500 feet in a mile, most of it on stone steps.

Though the hiking is rigorous this way, walking among the towering rock cliffs is fascinating.

Climbing Walls along Ledge Springs Trail

Along the way you'll pass Ledge Springs and Three Bears Gulley, one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the park.

Be mindful of the risk of falling rocks along this route; climbers occasionally knock little bits of the mountain loose.

Junction: Ledge Springs-Jameokee Trails

Turn right at this junction to take the loop around Big Pinnacle.

Turn left to return to the parking lot.

Jomeokee Trail at Big Pinnacle

This is the most scenic section of the park, making you thankful you saved the best for last.

There's a Y in the Jomeokee Trail as it splits to circle the peak. Either way is fine.

Beautiful rock formations and jagged, vertical cliffs ring the Jomeokee Trail, another great location for raptor-watching.

After you've done the loop, it's a short hike back to the main park trail, and a left turn to the parking lot.
Pictures in this guide taken by: tommangan, MarkTurner

Summit trails at Pilot Mountain State Park, North Carolina Trail Map

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