Named for the white quartzite rock that forms its summit, Shining Rock’s 5940-foot peak is not the highest in these two wilderness areas. In fact, Shining Rock Ledge, which forms the backbone of the area, boasts five peaks over 6000 feet, the highest being Cold Mountain at 6030 ft.
If Cold Mountain sounds familiar, it should. This is the Cold Mountain of Charles Frazier’s bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Cold Mountain. Literary pilgrims should be aware that the hike to Cold Mountain is no walk in the park. It is a 10.6-mile hike (one way) from the Daniel Boone Camp trailhead via the Art Loeb and Cold Mountain Trails.
As Frazier recounts in his novel, the Shining Rock area was originally part of the Cherokee Nation. White settlers began pouring in following a grant of land from the state of North Carolina in 1796. Champion Fibre Company purchased most of the area between 1906 and 1909 and began logging the area to supply its pulp mill in nearby Canton.
In 1911, Champion Fibre decided the area’s forests produced better saw timber than pulp, so the tract was sold to Champion Lumber, which in turn sold it to Suncrest Lumber in 1918.
Continuous logging between 1906 and 1926 decimated large stands of red spruce, Frazer fir, hemlock, and hardwoods. Remnant stands of isolated spruce and fir survive today on some of the ridge tops, though these stands are threatened by acid precipitation and exotic insects.
The Cherokee deliberately used fire to alter the ecology of the region. More recently, in 1925 a locomotive ignited a pile of logging slash that quickly spread and consumed over 25,000 acres before it was extinguished. This fire, along with another one in 1942, created the grasslands, known as balds, that one encounters while hiking the Art Loeb Trail.
Because of its proximity to Asheville and Atlanta, these wilderness areas receive heavy use. The Art Loeb, Ivester Gap, Shining Creek, and Big East Fork Trails offer the least opportunities for solitude.
Camping permits are not required for either wilderness area but groups of more than 10 are prohibited. For more info, contact the District Ranger at 828-877-3265, and see the links below.
Summary – Shining Rock
Location and Access: Haywood County, southwest of Asheville between Blue Ridge Parkway mileposts 412 and 431. This area can also be accessed by US 276 and NC 215.
Elevation: From 3200 ft. at the west fork of the Pigeon River to 6030 ft. atop Cold Mountain and 6400 ft. atop Richland Balsam.
Size: Shining Rock – 18,500 acres. Middle Prong – 7900 acres.
Established: Shining Rock – 1964. An original component of the National Wilderness System. Middle Prong – 1984. Created by the 1984 North Carolina Wilderness Act.