Pilot Mountain Hike: Mountain Trail, Ledge Springs Loop, and Big Pinnacle

Nathan and I love hiking, so we decided to take advantage of the extra day this past weekend and try a new trail. We looked at some different options, but ultimately settled on this one because it’s a longer trail and we wanted a bit of a challenge. We’ll probably go a couple more times through the summer and fall, but choose less challenging routes because we’ll be in serious training mode as we get closer to our big races. I had attempted this hike solo several years ago, but some large storms rolled in, so I turned back after about an hour.

The Mountain Trail is definitely one of the lesser-traveled trails at Pilot Mountain State Park.  To get to the trail, park in the gravel parking lot at the corner of Pinnacle Hotel Road and Culler Road, then walk across Pinnacle Hotel Road and to the left. Within a very short distance, you’ll see the trail. If you go to the right, you’ll see Grassy Ridge Trail. That’s a bridle trail, which I’m sure you could also hike, but I’ve never tackled that one.

The first part of the Mountain Trail is no joke. In fact, it’s a pretty serious climb. I was wearing my Garmin to track our mileage and the elevation profile shows that we climbed about 500 feet over the course of the first mile.  Once we got through that first mile, we took a break and drank some water. Then, the trail gave us some reprieve. For the next mile and a half, the trail rolled pretty well.  We passed through some super green areas with narrow trail, and then some places where it looks like the the rhododendron had been burned out.  I wish I had thought to take pictures of those spots.  The contrast between them was pretty wild.

Cute little guy spotted along the trail

Cute little guy spotted along the trail

Just before we reached the 2.5 mile mark, the trail started climbing pretty steeply. In fact, over less than a mile, we climbed almost 1000 feet.  During this time, we hit the junction with Ledge Springs Loop. Since it is a loop, we decided to go right, and walked along the base of Little Pinnacle. The traffic on the trail definitely picked up by this point.  In addition, the mostly dirt and rock covered trail turned into steep, stone steps during this part of the trail. There was a lot of climbing and as a result, I ended up needing some breathers along this part to keep my asthma in check. By the time we reached the saddle that connects Little Pinnacle and Big Pinnacle, the trail had mellowed quite a bit.  We walked the loop around Big Pinnacle and then found ourselves a spot in the shade to eat some snacks and get ourselves hydrated.

Super cool rock formations found while hiking at Pilot Mountain

Super cool rock formations found as we neared the junction with Ledge Springs Loop

Pilot Mountain State Park actually has the best access for non-hikers to a summit I’ve ever seen.  If you want, you can drive practically the whole way to the top and just walk around the Big Pinnacle and hit the overlooks from the top of Little Pinnacle. For us, the fact that there was a parking lot with restrooms and water fountains meant a perfect halfway resting area.  After a snack, a visit to the bathrooms and refilling our water bottles (for the 2nd time), we headed back down Ledge Springs Loop so we could do the other side of that trail.  Going this way enabled us to peek over the top of Little Pinnacle to look at the valley below.  It was really nice up there!

The way down was pretty uneventful, although we almost missed our turn back onto the Mountain Trail.  If you do this hike, be on the lookout! There isn’t a sign at the actual turnoff, but there is just down the hill from the turnoff. You can see it from Ledge Springs Loop, but you have to be looking for it.  Mountain Trail is blazed with red circles, so between that and the sign, you should find it. We were busy talking to each other and not completely paying attention, so we didn’t realize we had passed it until we crossed over a little spring that we had seen when we first got on the trail. Fortunately, that triggered both of us, and we turned around to see the turnoff just behind us.

The way down was much nicer in terms of going downhill rather than uphill.  There were a few climbs on the way back which I’m sure were short in comparison, but by that time, my legs were pretty done, so they felt just as harsh as the ones coming up. But, I loved every second of it.

Elevation profile from our hike

Elevation profile from our hike

When we finished, we picked a handful of fresh blackberries along the side of the road, had a good stretch, and headed back into Winston-Salem for a refreshing adult beverage before we made our way home to grill Fourth of July burgers for dinner.

It was a great day of hiking! If you’re up for a challenge, I would definitely recommend it!

Where are your favorite places to hike?

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