Looking at a trail map or topographic map, the area of this hike within Shining Rock Wilderness can be somewhat confusing. There is the Greasy Cove Prong, a creek that runs off of the Grassy Cove Ridge. The trail is called Greasy Cove, but it starts/ends at Grassy Cove Top. I think the guys who named the area may have had a touch too much huckleberry wine. Regardless of the befuddling names, the hike has a bit of everything for hiking enthusiasts. There are sections of hardwood forest, a couple creek and river crossings, a steady climb through delightful grass and fern ground cover, bushwhacking through blueberry and blackberry bushes, as well as rhododendron and laurel thickets, long distance views above 5800 feet, and even a cascading waterfall thrown in for good measure. This hike occurred on Thursday, June 16, 2011. We started at 9:15AM and finished at about 3:20PM. The plan was to start at the eastern trailhead at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There, the Bridges Camp Gap Trail connects to the Greasy Cove Trail where the East Fork of the Pigeon River and the Greasy Cove Prong meet. From there the Greasy Cove Trail climbs to the Grassy Cove Ridge where we would pick up the Graveyard Ridge Trail south to the Mountains to the Sea Trail. The final 3.8 miles back down to the parkway is along the MST.
Hike Length: 8.8 miles Hike Duration: 6 hours
Hike Rating: Moderate to difficult Blaze: None in the wilderness, white on the MST
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet Hike Configuration: Loop
Trail Condition: Mostly good, some primitive wilderness
Starting Point: On the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook.
Trail Traffic: We encountered no other hikers on the Greasy Cove Trail, and two small groups totaling six hikers on the MST.
How to Get There: From Brevard, NC take Hwy. 276 into Pisgah National Forest, and all the way to the top at Wagon Road Gap where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 412. Turn south on the parkway toward Cherokee and go 5 miles to the Looking Glass Rock Overlook (milepost 417). The trailhead is across the parkway from the parking area.
View Greasy Cove Trail, Shining Rock Wilderness in a larger map
WARNINGThe first half of this hike on Greasy Cove Trail is in the Shining Rock Wilderness. There are no trail markers, signs, blaze spots or other means of following the trail. You can get lost. There are false trails, particularly at camping areas, that can lead you astray. It is very important to have a good topographic trail map and a compass. It is best to do this hike with companions, and you should always let someone back home know where you are hiking, and approximately when you intend to return, so they can notify search and rescue if you are gone a lot longer than expected. Also, there are two creek and river crossings on this hike. If the water is high, crossing can be treacherous. The rocks are very slippery and falls can happen suddenly… as I found out. Hiking sticks or trekking poles can be very useful for maintaining your balance when crossing the streams. The crossings are also the most likely spots to lose the trail, so study your surroundings carefully.
About 100 yards east of the Looking Glass Rock Overlook the Bridges Camp Gap Trail heads into the forest from a small grassy clearing on the opposite side of the parkway from the overlook parking. There is also a trailhead directly across from the parking area, but that one is the return exit point. About 1/4 mile into the woods, there is a trail junction where Bridges Camp Gap meets the Greasy Cove Trail. This is where the fun begins. The trail descends for 20 minutes to the unmistakable sound of water streaming down the mountainside. The first to greet us was the East Fork of the Pigeon River, really little more than a creek. There are several campsites along the sandy and rocky riverbank, as well as places to cool off on a hot summer day. Not much further we got to the sign that marked the Shining Rock Wilderness boundary. From here on there would be no markings, just hope the trail itself was obvious.
The night before there had been a significant line of thunderstorms move through western North Carolina. With the storms came very high winds and about four hours of steady rain. The river was swollen quite a bit more than its normal flow, and the trail was covered with green leaves blown from the hardwood trees that comprised the forest, an odd sight. It actually made for a nice trail cushioning. The rushing stream was another matter. It’s generally dicey crossing rocky streams anyway, but when the rocks that are used to hop and skip across are partially submerged, caution is paramount. The East Fork crossing was located alongside a campsite, so it wasn’t intuitive to determine we needed to cross. Seeing the exit trail on the other side of the river was really the only clue. That, and the topo trail map indicated we would be crossing the river somewhere.
Just going down the bank to the crossing was slippery. I knew this was going to be interesting. I slipped not once, but twice on the first few rocks but managed to stay upright. Just about the time my hiking friend asked me if I wanted to use his poles to get the rest of the way across, down I went. My left foot slipped off its perch and into the water and I fortunately landed on the softest part of my body. No, not my head silly. It startled me for a moment, but I took inventory, and decided I wasn’t hurt… just my pride. I immediately accepted his invitation to use his poles the rest of the way. After he tossed them to me, I was able to cross the remaining half of the river without further incident. Lesson learned. I always carry a spare pair of socks in my pack, so I paused for a moment to change into those, and I was good to go.
The trail begins its climb after crossing the East Fork. It’s hard to select the correct trail. There is another campsite on the far side, and lots of false trails where campers no doubt go into the woods for nature calls. The proper trail is straight ahead from the crossing, and climbs steeply up, up and away. The trail is now alongside Greasy Cove Prong, running just as hard and fast down the mountain, but not as big as the East Fork. Half a mile further and it was time to cross this creek. Again, there is a confusing trail decision. There’s a false trail up and to the left, but the Greasy Cove Trail goes down steeply to the creek for another rugged crossing.
Remember that lesson learned? This time I let my friend cross, and then toss me his poles. Piece of cake. I’m still debating whether to get some poles myself. I really like having my hands free. Perhaps an adventurous marketing rep from a hiking poles company is reading this (hint-hint). The next couple miles of Greasy Cove is the toughest part of the hike, but perhaps also the most beautiful. It climbs roughly 1200 feet in those two miles with few switchbacks. It’s definitely uphill. But all along the climb you see where this area got its name (I still think it’s supposed to be Grassy Cove). The forest floor is covered with a thick carpet of natural grasses and ferns with the trail just meandering its way up and through. See the photo at the top of this post. The soil here is as black as the grass is green. Eventually we reached the Grassy Cove Ridge (yes, now it’s called Grassy), and the foliage and vegetation began to change to a more hearty stock that can withstand wind and snow. We found a beautiful little opening on the ridge to enjoy our lunch.
After lunch we continued upward toward the ridge crest. There are a few brief stretches where the trail gets overgrown with blackberry bushes, but otherwise it is quite lovely. There is a delightful beech forest and a long, dark tunnel of rhododendron, laurel and old, old blueberry trees. Yes, they’re so big they have become trees. As we approached the ridge crest, the trail got the steepest it had been and our lungs were burning. It was well worth the climb though as we popped out into the clear and had magnificent views of Mt. Pisgah and the Pisgah Ridge to the east, the Graveyard Fields area to the south, and Ivestor Gap to the west. Now at 5800 feet, the mountain laurel and flame azalea were still in bloom. My friend and I began to tick off the places we had hiked in the past year, like the fire tower at Fryingpan Mountain. There were a dozen at least that we could see from this vantage point.
There are a couple small signs along the trail announcing the Shining Rock Wilderness boundary. The rest of the hike is contained within Pisgah National Forest. The trail forks, with the right fork going to Ivestor Gap. We took the left fork, now an old logging road that is known as the Graveyard Ridge Trail. This two mile stretch is totally flat, so it was a welcome respite after the tough climb up Grassy Cove Ridge. The road is very rocky from erosion and hard on the feet. It skirts the southeastern flank of Tennent Mountain and looks out on the Blue Ridge far into the distance. There was a nice breeze to cool us, and fantastic views to enchant us.
We came upon another trail junction. From there we had a great view of the Tennent Mountain summit and could see a large group, probably a hiking club, up top. We encountered a young couple coming up from Graveyard Fields. At this point we could continue straight along the Graveyard Ridge and eventually end up at Graveyard Fields. We could turn right, and go up to Black Balsam Knob, or take the left turn on the Mountains to the Sea Trail to return to our starting point. It is 3.8 miles from this junction back to the parkway overlook.
After about 1/4 mile, the trail began its plunge, just as steep as on the way up. Again the scenery changed with the elevation. We went through the scrub foliage, then the thick hardwood forest. Along the way we met four other young people with their dog. I don’t know that they were hikers as they weren’t carrying anything. There are a couple more opportunities to cut over to Graveyard Fields, but we continued in an easterly direction on the MST. With about a mile left in our hike, we heard it again… the unmistakable sound of rushing water. This time is was the Yellowstone Prong. The trail parallels the stream about 200 feet above on the right, then steeply drops to Yellowstone Falls.
Yellowstone Falls is a popular place with sunbathers, and there were certainly quite a few out on this beautiful warm June afternoon. There is a wooden bridge across the river at the falls. The final 1/3 mile is about a 200 foot climb that was quite taxing at the end of a nearly nine mile hike. The trail exits onto the parkway directly across from the overlook. I always wondered why there were usually so many cars parked at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook. Now I know. They are all down at Yellowstone Falls catching some rays, and a swim.
I have been volunteering with Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway for a couple years now with their Adopt an Overlook program. So my friend and I stopped at our adopted overlook, Pounding Mill, at milepost 413.3 to do a little trash pickup and general maintenance. I try to get up there about every 2-3 weeks in the summer. I think it’s one of the best overlooks in the Pisgah district of the Parkway because it sits on a curve and has a 240
° view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. All in all, a very nice day.
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