The 5-mile John Rock Loop is a hike that, on a clear day, affords some of the most stunning views of Pisgah's wilderness and mountains. The hike takes you to the top of John Rock, which is a large open face that you stare at as you climb.
After a brief start on Forest Service Road 475, the trail links up with the Cat Gap Loop Trail. It immediately travels up through a mixed forest of hardwoods and lush rhododendron. There are a few stream crossings (some with a footbridge, some with some fairly easy rock-hopping), and just before an intersection with the Butter Gap Trail, you'll see (and hear) the Cedar Rock Falls.
The trail continues to climb steadily and surely, and eventually, it will come to a four-way intersection just south of John Rock. From here, take the John Rock Trail to continue to the top. It will be a fairly steep and substantial climb without switchbacks.
The trail will eventually pop out onto John Rock itself. Soak up the incredible view for as long as you'd like and then it's time to head back down and complete the loop.
What Makes It Great
Once you get the top of John Rock, you'll be given views of the outstretching valley below, the Pisgah Ridge, and across to Looking Glass Rock. The hike will also take you past a nice waterfall and, during spring, there are beautiful wildflower meadows in the Picklesimer Fields.
Who is Going to Love It
This is a fairly difficult hike, as the climbing is pretty steep (about 1,000 feet of elevation gain), so experienced hikers will enjoy this hike more than first-timers will. You'll want to hike counter clockwise so you're going up the really steep part, so the walk down is more gradual. It's tough to hurt yourself on steep uphill, but steep downhill is a different story.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The trailhead is located at the Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery, just off of Forest Service Road 475. It will be a left off of this road, and then just over a bridge about a mile and a half in, there will be a parking lot.