Ivestor Gap Trail to Shining Rock, Shining Rock Wilderness

Deep in the heart of Shining Rock Wilderness is the namesake, a mountain made of quartz, standing more than 6,000 feet. On bright sunny days you can see the white quartz “shining” from miles away. The Cherokee called it Datsu’nălâsgûñ’yĭ, “where their tracks are this way,” that refers to a white rock that is said to have tracks of Tsul ‘Kalu and his children. There are a half dozen trails through the wilderness that meet at Shining Rock, but the most direct is the Ivestor Gap Trail. If you’re new to Shining Rock Wilderness, this is a nice introduction. You can then decide if you wish to explore some of the more remote and difficult trails that criss-cross the wilderness. Access is from the Black Balsam spur road at milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We enjoyed the trek to Shining Rock on Thursday, June 25, 2015 beginning at 8:30AM and finishing at 12:50PM. Our plan was to take the Ivestor Gap Trail from Black Balsam Road directly to Shining Rock, and back.

Hike Length: 9.7 miles Hike Duration: 4.25 hours

Hike Configuration: Out and back Blaze: None, wilderness

Hike Rating: Moderate. Somewhat strenuous to the summit of Shining Rock.

Elevation Change: 237 feet, gain 405 feet Elevation Start: 5,805 feet

Trail Condition: Very rocky. From nearly start to finish you are walking on rocks.

Starting Point: Parking area at the end of Black Balsam Road.

Trail Traffic: We encountered about 20 campers at Ivestor Gap, and four other hikers on the summit of Shining Rock. Otherwise, we had the trail all to ourselves.

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 8 miles to the Black Balsam Knob Rd. (FR816) It is a mile up the spur road to the parking area.



After more than a week of 90+ temperature, it was time to head into the high country for some cool mountain air. Shining Rock Wilderness fit the request nicely. With a half dozen peaks over 6,000 feet, and most of the rest over 5,000, it is guaranteed to be 10-15° cooler than the surrounding valleys. The high country is the place to go for summer hiking in the Southern Appalachians.

You may ask, why would anyone want to hike nearly five miles out and five miles back to see a white mountain? Because it’s there. Because the white quartz is really cool. Because of the great exercise. Because of the peace and serenity that exists in the wilderness. Because of the wonderful things that are found along the way. Because of the amazing view of the expanse of Shining Rock Wilderness. Because it is far better than anything you can find on your couch. C’mon. Get out there!

The Ivestor Gap Trail begins at the dead end of Black Balsam Road, a turnoff at mile 420 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. As you approach the parking area, the trail is on your right. It is actually an old logging road, leftover from the early 20th century when this entire area was valued for its exceptional timber. You will notice right off the bat how rocky this road is. Don’t expect that to change, at least until you get to Ivestor Gap itself, roughly two miles out. It might be a good idea to wear high top hiking footwear to help with ankle support.

Because of the wonderful things that are found along the way

From May until September it seems there is always something blooming along Ivestor Gap Trail. Whether it be the tiny bluets or chickweed early in the season, the laurels and azaleas in early summer, or the tall goldenrod or thistle of autumn you are bound to catch something colorful in the corner of your eye. On this particular day, we were treated to mountain laurel, morning glory, and flame azalea.

The morning glories are plentiful along Ivestor Gap. Be sure to arrive, umm - in the morning - to catch these beauties all through summer.

The morning glories are plentiful along Ivestor Gap. Be sure to arrive, umm – in the morning – to catch these beauties all through summer.


The Ivestor Gap Trail circles around the massive Black Balsam Knob as it heads toward Shining Rock Wilderness. Most of the views along the trail are to the west, including of Sam Knob and Fork Mountain, and the many drainages that plunge toward the Pigeon River. This is also blueberry country. You will notice thousands of low bushes, and the picker trails that criss-cross the hillsides. Hundreds of folks come up here in late August to fill themselves with the indigo lusciousness.

Approximately two miles along you reach the boundary of Shining Rock Wilderness. Bear (no pun intended) left here to stay on the Ivestor Gap Trail. Then, a short quarter mile later you reach Ivestor Gap. When we arrived we were greeted by about two dozen teenage girls who were on a camping trip with llamas. They all wanted to tell the story of the black bear who prowled around their camp the night before looking for goodies. They were really excited and gleeful, having a real wilderness experience to share forever.

There are many trail options at Ivestor Gap. You can take the Art Loeb Trail up and over 6,000′ Grassy Cove Top. If you don’t think you want to continue further into the wilderness, you can also take the Art Loeb back south across Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam, returning to the parking area. For the hike we’re talking about here, though, bear left again to stay on the Ivestor Gap Trail.

Because of the peace and serenity that exists in the wilderness

For the next couple miles you will be proceeding along the Shining Rock Ledge. The trail gets more comfortable here, free of the constant rocks that are hard on the feet. You will pass under dark rhododendron tunnels, then pop out into the bright sunshine with views across the valley of Middle Prong Wilderness and the giant Richland Balsam Mountain. Then back into the soothing canopy of mountain laurel and azalea, and the exquisite forest aroma of spruce and fir.

It is peaceful and quiet here. You can hear your foot steps… and your heart beat. There are no roads for miles. This is wilderness. The sounds are natural. The sweet song of a thrush perched on a rhododendron branch. The chip, chip, chipping of a red squirrel as he defies you to take his picture. The howls of coyotes echoing across the ridges from who knows how many miles away. Now is the time to use your senses. Listen. Smell. Look. Taste. Touch. It is all there for you.

Two miles beyond Ivestor Gap you will begin to notice white rocks scattered near the trail. This is quartz, and it means you are nearing Shining Rock. You will pass a trail coming up from your left. This is Little East, and it eventually goes all the way to the Daniel Boone Scout Camp. Continue straight, though, for another hundred yards or so to what I like to call the wagon wheel trail junction.

There are trails coming from seemingly every direction that meet here at the base of Shining Rock. There is Ivestor Gap Trail of course, but also the continuation of the Art Loeb through The Narrows and on to Cold Mountain. The Old Butt and Shining Creek Trails also meet here. It’s all like spokes on a wagon wheel.

Because the white quartz is really cool

The final spoke is the spur trail that goes to the summit of Shining Rock. How do you know which one it is? From the clearing in the center of the wagon wheel, look for a sign that denotes the Art Loeb Trail and says 4 miles to Cold Mountain. Use that to get your bearings. Now turn to your right and walk about 50 feet and look for a trail on your left. That is the one you want.

The summit is about a quarter mile distance and 230 feet of climbing through thick, dark and aged rhododendron canopy, past large quartz boulders, and over evergreen needles deposited by decades of seasons. We could hear voices for the first time since Ivestor Gap. There were others up top. There are multiple crests on the summit. We stopped on one of them to enjoy our lunch and leave the one at the point to the other fellows. The photo at the top of this post is Ken settling in on the quartz for his picnic.

Because of the amazing view of the expanse of Shining Rock Wilderness. This is the view south. You can also see The Narrows ledge off to the west, and in winter you can see Cold Moutain and Mt. Pisgah.

Because of the amazing view of the expanse of Shining Rock Wilderness. This is the view south. You can also see The Narrows ledge off to the west, and in winter you can see Cold Moutain and Mt. Pisgah.

Once we finished lunch, the other guys had moved on, so I was able to go out to the point for the amazing views of Shining Rock Wilderness. I am always in awe of this setting. You are sitting at 6,040 feet, on shiny, bright white quartz. You can see nearly a dozen more mountains surrounding you that stand above 6,000 as well. On this day, the spruce krummholz that shares the summit with the white stone was an amazing bright green and smelled heavenly. The foliage here is very, very healthy.

A word of warning though. Because thousands of folks have crawled on Shining Rock over the centuries, the quartz has been worn quite smooth. Combined with the steep angles and awkward slopes, it can be an extreme slipping hazard. You won’t fall hundreds of feet, but if you do fall, you are likely to bang something that will leave a mark. So be careful. You don’t want your companion to have to haul you all the way out of the wilderness.

When you get back to the wagon wheel junction there are so many options available to you for the return. If you had planned a shuttle hike and left multiple cars at multiple trailheads, you can try any of the trails I mentioned above. However, our plan was to simply return the same way we came.

To summarize, this hike is a great introduction to many of the features that Shining Rock Wilderness has to offer. Although somewhat long, it is really quite easy, being almost totally flat, until the last quarter mile to the summit of Shining Rock. It’s great hiking exercise. Ken and I were able to complete the nearly 10 miles in just over four hours at a leisurely pace. It can be kinda hard on the feet because of all the rock on the old logging road, but just wear the appropriate shoes and you will be fine.

This hike is only available when the Blue Ridge Parkway is open, so it is seasonal. You are likely to be able to get access to the trailhead April through November. Check the Parkway closures site before making plans.



This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.


The following are paid links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.