Sunday, April 3, 2011

John Rock via Cat Gap Loop Trail 4/2/2011

John Rock viewed from the parking area
We headed out on this sunny but windy Spring day to hike the trails behind the fish hatchery in Pisgah National Forest in Brevard county North Carolina.  The John Rock trail is a loop trail reached by hiking part way around the Cat Gap loop so this is a loop within a loop hike of between five and six miles.  John Rock seems to be right behind the parking lot but you must circle around behind it to hike to the top. 

One of Many Stream Crossing on this Hike
We chose to hike counterclockwise, the less popular route.  This avoided some of the crowds on this popular trail until later in the day and had us hiking uphill on the steepest part of the trail.  We went around the gate on the road at the back of the parking lot, crossed the bridge, and took an immediate right on the orange blazed Cat Gap Loop trail.  It is a pleasant woods walk with the first of many stream crossing just ahead.

Cedar Rock Falls
We knew that there was a hidden waterfall up ahead that you must find a side trail on the left to climb down to.  We could hear the falls when we spotted a trail down.  This short trail has a few obstacles but the view of the falls is well worth the effort.  Back on the main trail we passed a campsite and an upper section of falls.  Soon after we reached a trail intersection.  The Butter Gap trail goes straight ahead but we turned left and crossed the creek on a log bridge.

Rhododendron tunnel
Past this point the walk levels out and the creek becomes a quiet stream.   We leave this creek soon but there are many more small creeks and runs along this hike.  In places the rhododendrons form tunnels over the trail.  In other areas the woods are more open.  We stopped to look for a geocache at a large flat area with a small stream passing by.

Obstacle in the Trail
 After a half mile or so the trail becomes steeper and eroded.  A large tree was down in the trail.  You could tell that it had recently fallen by the color of the split wood and the presence of new spring growth.   I expect the trail will be cleared soon.  The wind picked up and we heard something fall behind us on the trail.  The steep area didn't last long and soon we were getting views of  Looking Glass  in the distance.

Looking Glass Rock Viewed  from the Trail
At the next trail intersection we turned left on the yellow blazed Cat Gap Bypass trail.  This section of trail is about a half mile long and avoids the climbs to the highest point on the Cat Gap loop.  This section is mostly flat as it follows the side of the hill.  Soon we are at a four way intersection.  The Cat Gap Loop trail comes in on the right and leaves straight ahead.  To the left is the steepest part of the John Rock trail.

View Hiking Along the Ridge
We stopped to find a geocache then headed up this steep trail.  We had been warned that it was very steep and rough.  It wasn't easy but we have been on worse and it wasn't long before we reached the peak of John Rock.  This is not the open rock area but the highest point of the granite dome.  We would follow the ridge line dropping down into a saddle and back up before finally reaching the top of the cliffs.

Top of john Rock
It is important to stay near the woods at the cliffs.  The rocks can be slippery and the first step is a long one if you know what I mean.  We sat on the rock and enjoyed the views but did not eat our picnic here.  It was very windy and we had visions of our lunch sailing off the cliffs.  With the binoculars we could see the Blue Ridge Parkway and a waterfall in the distance.  Down below we watched buzzards fly around the fish hatchery.

We were now well over halfway through the hike and it was all downhill from here.  We were immediately back in the woods and soon making water crossings again.  The trail down utilizes old railroad grades and is never very steep.  Until this point we had only seen one lone yellow flower in the trail but on the way down we started seeing lots of flowers.  They were scattered here and there until we reached the intersection with the Cat Gap Loop.

We turned left and found ourselves in nature's flower garden with a pretty stream running through.  We only had about a half mile of our hike left.  From here it is an almost level walk through beautiful woods, across a few bridges, and along the river back to the parking lot.  This last section would be a great walk for anyone who wants to experience the forest without a lot of effort.

A Fun Water Crossing
This was a wonderful  hike with a lot of variety.  We probably encountered about a hundred people on the trail today but there were still long stretches where we saw no one.  The ends of this hike would be enjoyable for young children  but I would not recommend taking them to top of the cliffs.  An out and back hike to the cliffs starting from the east end of the parking would be easier then the loop but you would miss the waterfall and a lot of the scenery.

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