Approximately 390 million years ago, a pluton monolith formed in what is now North Carolina. Magma slowly cooled and crystallized beneath the earth’s surface, resulting in the massive body of granite that we know today as Looking Glass Rock. Rising thousands of feet above the tree-lined slopes of Pisgah National Forest, the rock formation is named after the way frozen rainwater on its surface reflects sunlight like a mirror.
Pisgah National Forest was established in 1916, and spans over 500,000 acres of old-growth trees and cascading waterfalls in western North Carolina. It is home to the U.S.’s highest peaks east of the Mississippi River, and is part of the Appalachian Mountain system.
While other mountains in the area are taller and better known, Looking Glass Rock’s distinct geologic history sets it apart. It’s an inselberg, an isolated mountain that rises abruptly from its surrounding landscape. Over millions of years, erosion wore away other rocks that once surrounded the monolith, allowing the granite to swell. Layers of the brittle rock flaked off, resulting in a smooth-sided dome.
These sheer granite faces have drawn rock climbers to Looking Glass Rock since the 1960s. In 1966, the climbers Steve Longenecker, Robert John Gillespie, and Bob Watts completed the first ascent of Looking Glass Rock after two years of attempts. The route they established, known as “The Nose,” was the first of its kind in North Carolina; today there are nearly 400 different climbing routes on Looking Glass.
If you want to walk, rather than climb to the top of Looking Glass Rock, you’ll face a moderately challenging hike. It’s a nearly continuous climb from the trailhead, through thickets of ferns and rhododendrons at the base, and Table Mountain pines as the elevation increases. Once you reach the summit the curved outcrops offer expansive views of the surrounding forest—and a sheer drop nearly 400 feet into the valley below.
Know Before You Go
The best view of Looking Glass Rock is from Looking Glass Rock Overlook, at milepost 417 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the town of Brevard. To reach the rock itself, the Looking Glass Rock Trail hike departs from a trailhead just off the forest road FS-475, south of Looking Glass Falls. Be extremely careful at the summit as the outcrop has a sudden and steep drop-off. Be sure to bring plenty of water.