Craggy Pinnacle Sunset - Blue Ridge Parkway

Ensure to bring layers, it gets cold and windy up in this elevation..... snacks, water and gas money

We will leave promptly at 6:30 pm as the sunsets around 7:53 tonight

Craggy Pinnacle Hike Synopsis

This popular trail climbs a short distance from a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook to a high, rocky peak overlooking the Craggy Gardens area. Blooming rhododendrons put on a fantastic display along this trail in late June. Twisted trees grow in the high-elevation Birch forest. Spectacular 360 degree views of the Visitor Center, the North Fork Reservoir, and the surrounding mountains and valleys reward your climb.

Hike Statistics

Difficulty: Moderate

Total Length: 1.4 mi

Trail Tread Condition: Some Obstacles

Climb: Climbs Moderately

Lowest Elevation: 5660 ft

Highest Elevation: 5892 ft

Total Elevation Gain: 250 ft

Trails Used: Craggy Pinnacle

Hike Configuration: Out-and-back

Starting point: Craggy Dome Overlook at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364


From Asheville, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway North 18 miles past the Folk Art Center. Pass the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area and Visitor Center; go under the Craggy Pinnacle tunnel. Turn left into the Craggy Dome overlook just past the tunnel. Park in the upper parking lot.


Hike Description

Please note that the Craggy Pinnacle trail is planned to be closed, due to the prevalence of rare and endangered species of plants on or near the summit, and the impact that hikers leaving the trail has on them. The Blue Ridge Parkway General Management Plan / Final Environmental Impact Statement released on January 15, 2013 outlines a complete closure of the trail, and replacing it with one to the top of nearby Craggy Dome (which is actually higher than Pinnacle). It might be years before implementation of the plan actually happens; until then, it is illegal to leave the established trail surface (for blueberry picking or any other purpose) by order of a Parkway Superintendent's Compendium issued in August of 2010.

This short, moderately steep trial takes you to one of the best 360 degree summit views on the Blue Ridge Parkway! Traveling through a stunted high-elevation forest of mostly birch trees, you can explore the second-highest Southern Appalachian forest community and another unique environment as well: a high-elevation heath bald. During the early summer, enjoy the beautiful pink and purple blooms of the Catawba rhododendron which cover this "bald". The trail climbs moderately, but is very short, and there are plenty of recommended resting points along the way, making the hike easy overall.

Starting in the parking lot at an elevation of 5640', climb the short set of steps to a a pleasant grassy area, with a couple of sign boards explaining the phenomenon of the heath bald. A nice view of the North Fork reservoir is to your left, and behind the board some very nice, large rhododendrons grow. As the trail sign indicates, you start the hike on the trail to the right.

Old rhododendrons arch over the trail at first, and then give way to trees. In a heath bald, shrubs such as rhododendron, mountain laurel, and blueberry cover the hillside instead of trees. Most of this trail used to travel through such a bald; however, a high-elevation northern hardwood forest is rapidly encroaching on it. Many of the heaths which grow here are very old and past their prime; more than a few are already dead. They look their best when disturbed or "pruned back" every so often, such as by wildfire or grazing by animals - but this isn't happening as much anymore since the area is under Blue Ridge Parkway protection. The trees consists mostly of birch and mountain ash, and some maples as well.

The trail is well-worn and easy to follow, but a few sections are rocky and have log water turnouts. The trees are extremely stunted, attesting to the high winds and violent weather that occurs at this high elevation. You'll pass three points of interest along this section of the trail. The first is a short, gnarled birch tree above the trail on the left. This tree is probably very old, but never reached a large size due to the mountains' exposure. The trail gets a bit steeper here.

Then there is another neat birch tree - this time on your right. This tree lies parallel to the ground and probably fell many years ago during strong winds. But it still lives, and is quite big around! Its twisted roots, arching up from the rocky ground, make a favorite spot for kids to play while parents rest, and are visually striking enough to ensure that you can't miss it. Its branches reach straight up into the wind to form a canopy scarcely 20 to 30 feet above the ground. On the left side of the trail, just up from this tree, is a crystal-clear, trickling spring partly enclosed by a concrete box. This is actually the headwaters for Waterfall Creek, a tributary of which plunges over the beautiful Douglas Falls somewhat lower down the mountain.

Shortly past the spring, the rhododendrons return in force and the trail makes a switchback around a large boulder - the third point of interest mentioned before. There's a small cave under the rock, and a great view from on top of it. A sign hear pleads with you to stay on the trail; heed that warning, as you are entering a sensitive habitat with fragile, endangered species (and since it's the law, you might get a ticket if you don't). You'll continue climbing, back into a heath bald with rhododendron, mountain laurel, and blueberry bushes.

Some short side paths lead to great blueberry patches, but it's not always clear which ones are sanctioned by the Park Service, so it's best to just stick to the main path and get any blueberries within reach. (Better off-trail wandering for blueberries can be found one mountain south, on the Craggy Gardens hike). You'll reach the crest of the ridge where a nice resting bench has been placed. Behind the bench is a nice, grassy meadow, and behind that are blueberry thickets - but again, going that way could be considered leaving the trail, so stick to the area around the bench. Just past the bench is a split in the trail; left is the summit overlook and right is the lower overlook. Start by going left to reach the summit.

The trail climbs just a few more feet from the split up to the summit, up some rock and log steps. The overlook is well marked by rock walls. Another sign there has information about the summit and the surrounding area, and there are some benches to rest on. As the sign board back at the split implores you: please, stay within the designated overlooks!

From the summit, you have a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. To your north (back toward the parking lot), you can see Craggy Dome and the Black Mountains - including Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. To your west, you'll see the Dillingham valley and mountains in nearby Madison County, including the State Line Ridge. Unfortunately, you'll also see the new Interstate 26 climbing said ridge. To the south, you can see the Craggy Gardens visitor center, the trail shelter on Craggy Flats, and the Blue Ridge Parkway snaking around Lane Pinnacle towards Asheville. You can see Asheville's outskirts on a clear day - namely the Asheville Mall and Tunnel Road businesses - but downtown is hidden behind the ridges. Beyond Asheville lies Mount Pisgah and the Pisgah range. To the southwest you may be able to make out the Great Smoky Mountains on a very clear day. And finally, to the east, is the North Fork reservoir - Asheville's water source - and Graybeard Mountain.

You may wish to descend to the lower overlook. Go back to the split, and turn left. It's a few yards on a descending path to the overlook area in a grassy bald. Look back up toward the summit and the surrounding boulders. You will probably see sedges - tufts of grasslike plants growing in the cracks, which look like big, blonde wigs waving in the wind. This is an example of the kind of vegetation that is being protected by the trail restrictions and potential trail closures. People who leave the trail often don't recognize this special vegetation and trample on it, killing some of the only remaining specimens of its kind in the world.

The rocky, pointed knob of Craggy Pinnacle harbors some of the most sensitive plant habitats in the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. These plants are a relic of the alpine tundra environment that existed across much of the southern Appalachians during the last Ice Age. As the earth warmed and the cold-loving plants retreated north, they also retreated up in elevation - and take refuge only on the highest peaks such as this one. And as they become isolated by the valleys separating the peaks, these plants evolve into new endemic species that grow nowhere else on earth!

You may also see some of these sedges growing on the large boulder in the foreground as you look back down toward the visitor center. A trail used to climb straight up to this overlook from the visitor center, but it has long been closed to protect the sensitive environment.

When you're done soaking up the views, return to your vehicle via the same trail.


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  • Jonna

    THANK YOU so much for hosting this sunset hike, Anna Marie! Really enjoyed it and meeting some new folks. Will post my photos in a day or two.

    September 5, 2013

  • Betsye L.

    I am SOOO sorry. Kat and I were both at the Craggy Dome Overlook at about 6:00. We waited and waited. I had only Jonna's phone and couldn't reach her. When 6:45 rolled around, we both thought the worst and left ---- At home now, I realize that the reference to the Folk Art Center was indicating IT was the starting point. We traveled too far alone.
    What time did you guys get to the trailhead. When we left there was only one station wagon in the lower lot that had been there all evening --- It was a wonderful drive (top open) and my picnic supper on the stone wall could not have been better.....

    September 4, 2013

    • Jonna

      Hey Betsye - I was running late and got your message shortly before arriving at the trailhead due to poor cell service. I tried to call you back and the calls couldn't get through. I'm sorry! We missed you!!!

      September 5, 2013

  • Kat

    I need help. I was at Craggy Dome Overlook (Craggy Pinnacle) at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364 at 6pm along with Betsye. Where did I go wrong? Folk Art Center is a MP 382. I visited there earlier in the day but saw no mention of Craggy Pinnacle. A phone number would have been great. I wouldn't have missed this great hike. Please don't mark me as a no show.

    September 4, 2013

    • Kat

      Duly noted life happens. At Craggy Pinnacle early 6pm, meet time 6:15, leave TH promptly 6:30. Left 6:45 because no others from the group were there but Betsye & van pic #1 posted by Anne. Always others at TH early too. I bet you guys were the 4-5 cars clumped together I passed just before 7pm. Not everyone was carpooling. Look forward to another hike.

      September 5, 2013

    • Bryan S.

      Sorry you missed us, Kat, and I like your positive attitude. Hope to see you on another trail soon.

      September 5, 2013

  • Wendy O.

    Lovely sunset set and great weather. Hope to see more you folks on other hikes.

    September 5, 2013

  • Nancy B.

    Great group and a beautiful view after a stressful day at work....what could be better?! Thanks to Anna Marie for a wonderful last minute hike!

    1 · September 4, 2013

  • Bryan S.

    Amazing views, but the company of the wonderful hikers there was more breathtaking than the views!

    September 4, 2013

  • Bobby Lane S.

    this was a lot of fun for interacting with group members and of course the view was spectacular.

    September 4, 2013

  • Bryan S.

    That was beautiful and good to catch up with some old friends i.e. friends I have not seen in a long time. Thanks sooooooooo much Anna Marie for doing this! Great time . Thanks Jonna for the special treats you brought for all to enjoy! Cudos.

    1 · September 4, 2013

  • Anna M.

    Cheers to the new hikers ......awesome to see Wendy and Bryan....look forward to photos...

    September 4, 2013

  • John M.

    Rich ~ Yes, it was re-opened just prior to Labor Day weekend. There is a 15 mph section just past Tanbark Tunnel where the temporary work was done. More work will be done after the Parkway closes for the winter.

    1 · September 4, 2013

  • Don H.

    Hoping for a good photo opp

    September 4, 2013

  • Jonna

    I will meet you at the trailhead. What time do you think you will be there, please?

    September 4, 2013

  • Kat

    bring flashlight or headlamp

    September 4, 2013

  • Rich

    The Parkway toward Craggy Gardens was closed due to "The Crack." You're sure it has reopened?

    September 4, 2013

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