Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest has a lot to offer. Spanning 11.5 miles over the course of four different trails, you'll get to hike next to some scenic creeks that feed the East Fork of the Pigeon River. You'll also get some stunning views while hiking a short distance on the Art Loeb Trail. You could make this a grueling day hike, but backpacking will allow for more time to take in the scenery and let you catch the sunset from Shining Rock. This hike will take you through dense deciduous forest, grassy fields, and high-elevation pine forests with magic around every corner. Mushrooms and wildflowers are abundant in mid to late summer.
There are two parking areas for Big East Fork. The parking for the Big East Fork Trailhead is limited to about eight cars and often fills up on the weekend. If you can't find a parking spot there, drive about 100 yards north (or downhill) on Highway 276 and you will find additional parking on both sides of the highway near the trailhead for Shining Creek Trail. Start by hiking out on Big East Fork Trail. You'll pass several deep swimming holes with crystal-clear water within the first 2 miles, so you may want to pack your swimming attire if you do this hike in the summer! Take Big East Fork Trail 3.4 miles until it intersects with Greasy Cove Trail. This trail intersection is anything but obvious. At the 3.4 mile mark, you will encounter a campsite on your right. Walk through the campsite and cross the river. There isn’t a bridge or sufficient rocks to cross, so plan on taking off your hiking boots and walking through the knee-deep river. Once on the other side of the river, you'll find yourself in another campsite. Greasy Cove Trail faintly heads uphill on the south side of Greasy Cove Prong Creek, following the creek.
Follow Greasy Cove Trail up the steep mountain. After passing through Grassy Cove Gap, you’ll find that the trail levels off and winds through a beautiful yet eerie grove of mountain laurel tunnels. This flat section of the trail is a welcome relief after the steep ascent up Greasy Cove Trail. After one more steep ascent on Greasy Cove Trail, the top of the mountain is obvious as the forest makes way for shrubs and bushes and your view opens up. At this point you’ll want to begin looking for the spur trail that will connect you to the Art Loeb Trail. Look for a patch of grass large enough for about one tent on your right. The spur trail will be straight ahead through a rhododendron tunnel. Proceed on this spur trail for a little less than a quarter of a mile until it intersects with the Art Loeb and hang a right. The Art Loeb area of this hike is not blazed or well-marked and has many trail intersections and spurs. A GPS device, a map, and a compass are strongly encouraged throughout the duration of the hike.
After about a mile and a half on the Art Loeb you'll approach Shining Rock. If you feel like you've stepped into a fairy tale of a scene, you're likely in the right spot. Finding your way to the rock itself is relatively simple; it's the only giant white quartz rock in the area! Climb on top for one of the best views of the western horizon that you can find in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Catching a good sunset up on Shining Rock is something that will likely stick with you for many years. Camp at one of the many campsites near base of Shining Rock. Overnight campers in Shining Rock Wilderness are required to use a bear canister. There is a bear in the area that has become habituated to eating food left out by careless campers. Although no aggressive encounters have been reported, treat the situation with respect and store your food properly and you won’t have any problems. You’ll have likely consumed a large portion of your water coming up Greasy Cove Trail. If you need water to get you through the night, you can find a small spring near the intersection of Art Loeb Trail and Shining Creek Trail.
You'll need to backtrack on the Art Loeb Trail for a couple hundred feet the next day until you see the sign for Shining Creek Trail. Take the Shining Creek Trail down 3.4 miles back to the Big East Fork parking area and be sure to stop and enjoy one of the many waterfalls that tumble down Shining Creek. If you parked at the Big East Fork Trailhead, you’ll need to walk up the road about a hundred yards from the Shining Creek Trailhead to cross the river and get to the other parking area.