After a full-day hike on Mount LeConte where I had no views and severely irritated my left IT Band, I decided to try some short hikes this Sunday until the pain flared up again. Unlike Saturday, the weather was supposed to be partly sunny with high wind and gusts. My first stop was Mount Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The climb to Mount Pisgah is a classic hike southwest of Asheville and is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Mount Pisgah at 5,721 feet is one of the most recognizable peaks in North Carolina with its pyramidal summit and 339-foot television transmission tower. On many of the hikes I do in western North Carolina, I can see that tower from many miles other. This mountain lies in the northeast corner of the Great Balsam Mountains, and has outstanding views from the observation deck at the summit. Although it is a short hike at 2.9 miles round-trip, the climb is steep and relentless. This is a great jumping off point for more exploration, and it should take under 2 hours for most hikers.
I drove here from Waynesville, which is the not most common approach. If you are coming from Asheville get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drive south. There are multiple entrances for the parkway around Asheville, so the mileage may vary. Turn left at milepost 407.7 for the Buck Spring Gap Overlook. There should be a sign indicating Mt. Pisgah Trail. You can park at the lower lot or continue up the road to the trailhead parking. The Mount Pisgah Parking Area at the trailhead is smaller, and this is a very popular hike so often times it will be full. Don’t worry, the lower lot at the overlook is just an extra 0.2-mi hike further.
Max elevation: 5722 ft
Min elevation: 4915 ft
Total Time: 01:28:11
Before starting the hike take time to admire the views from the parking area. At the Buck Spring Gap Overlook sign is a nice view east of the Big Creek drainage. On the other side Mount Pisgah rises high above the parking area to the northwest, with the giant television tower highly visible. Pick up the Mountains-to-Sea Trail  (white blaze) on the right side of the parking area briefly climbing up and over a hill. You can also take the road on the left by staying in the wide shoulder. I did this on the return because it is flat and easier. Soon you’ll reach the Mount Pisgah Parking Area with a similar, striking view of Mount Pisgah rising above. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Shut-In Trail  turn right leaving the area. Continue to the end of the parking lot to begin the Mount Pisgah Trail . At the beginning of the trail another trail turns left connecting to the picnic area, campground, and Fryingpan Mountain. I was extremely tempted to take this trail since Fryingpan Mountain was my next destination, but the 3.0 miles one-way scared me off. I didn’t want to get stuck on a long hike with IT band issues.
Initially the Mount Pisgah Trail is a wide, gravel path and very flat. As it turns right it gradually ascends a slope heading towards a gap between Mount Pisgah and Little Pisgah Mountain. When you reach this gap the climbing begins. At first the trail is a mixture of eroded dirt pathways over exposed boulders. This section is mercifully short. Then the continuous climb over countless rock steps begins. These steps are placed well and make the climb relatively easy, although I passed many people struggling. This is a very crowded trail, and you’ll see all kinds of hikers along the way. The forest was very interesting along this trek – a mixture of heath shrubs like mountain laurel and northern hardwoods gnarled and humbled by the weather towards the higher elevations. After 1.4 miles of hiking you’ll reach the observation deck at the summit.
Mount Pisgah is 5,721 feet high, and although shorter than the tallest peaks in the Great Balsam Mountains, you still have a commanding view from the observation deck. The television transmission tower soars 339 feet above where you stand. This is one of the tallest towers I’ve seen this close, it is impossibly high and imposing. Unfortunately it blocks clear views north. Towards the east the Great Balsam Mountains drop away to the French Broad River Valley. Asheville lies to the northeast, while the Hickory Nut Mountains rise above the valley to the east. It was hazy so I could not see the Black Mountains, but I’m sure you can see those peaks with better visibility. Due south you can spot the parking area and the Blue Ridge Parkway snaking around the rugged Pisgah Ridge. The mountain with the communications tower and lookout tower is Fryingpan Mountain, my next destination. The best views by far are southwest to west of the central crest of the Great Balsam Mountains, most of which lies within the Shining Rock Wilderness. The East Fork of the Pigeon River lies between Mount Pisgah and the peaks of the Shining Rock Wilderness. On the far left just outside of the wilderness boundary is Black Balsam Knob, the broad, bare summit barely discernible from surrounding peaks. The Art Loeb Trail follows the crest heading north across Grassy Cove Top, Flower Knob, Shining Rock, and Stairs Mountain. The land drops suddenly north of Stairs Mountain to The Narrows and then Deep Gap. The pyramidal peak due west is Cold Mountain, the most striking mountain in view.
I did not linger long on the summit. It was crowded and I had more hikes to do. The descent is not a problem because the stairs alleviate hard striking on your legs. I quickly made it down and back to the parking lot, and ate a snack in my car while admiring Mount Pisgah through the window. The hike is only 2.9 miles, and is doable for most hikers in under 2 hours. I highly recommend stopping at Mount Pisgah if you are exploring this region, it is a natural gateway for the high peaks of the Great Balsam Mountains.