Look upon an icon
4 miles: Moderate
NC cabin rental resorts across the state wish they had Looking Glass Rock nearby like Willow Winds does. It is an icon of the region: a big, solitary rock rising out of the forest with bare, gray walls and a forested top. It's no surprise the hike to the top has become popular, even crowded.
To escape the crowds and enjoy equally great views that include the icon itself, we suggest the hike to the top of John Rock, just across the valley. It's a little steep in sections, but fairly short.
Here's a quick geology lesson: John Rock and Looking Glass are both "exfoliation domes," huge pieces of rock shaped by several interacting forces. About 390 million years ago, magma deep within the earth cooled and crystallized. This rock was thrust upward and weathering and erosion stripped the earth above it. Without the weight bearing down on it, the rock expands outward, helping to create the dome-like shape as weathering and erosion continue.
From the Pisgah Center For Wildlife Education and fish hatchery, follow the eastern section of the Cat Gap Loop Trail for 1.3 miles to the signed junction with the John Rock Trail. Take a right on the John Rock Trail and make the 0.7-mile ascent to the open ridge top. Return the same way.
From Willow Winds, turn left on Sweeten Creek Road, also known as U.S. 25-A. After five miles, U.S. 25-A will become NC 280. Continue on NC 280 for 18 miles to the junction with U.S. 64 and U.S. 276. Turn right on U.S. 276 and continue for five miles. Turn left on Forest Service Road 475. The trailhead is on the left by the fish hatchery and Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.