Pilot Mountain State Park

Monadnock(1) : (ma-NAD-knock)
: noun
: Inselburg (German Etymology): Isolated Mountain

Sauratown Mountain Range(2)
: an outlier mountain range in the northwest corner of the North Carolina Piedmont, just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once "mighty peaks", erosion reduced the range to scenic quartzite ridges, peaks and knobs.

Pilot Mountain
: a monadnock in the Sauratown Mountain Range

I'd heard of Pilot Mountain on several occasions, but I knew very little about this destination. Only that it was located in the northwest quadrant of the state, that it's a cone of a mountain with a dome protruding from the top, and that it's near Mt. Airy. So a fair amount of research was in order before, during, and after our visit.

One of the first things we learned? It's beautiful country.

As mentioned above, Pilot Rock is a monadnock, and as such, it appears to be a single mountain growing from the landscape. (Hanging Rock is another, and can be seen in the background of the photo above.) Because of this, when near the mountain's summit, one can see miles of land stretching toward the horizon.

Since this was our first trip to the landmark natives called Jomeokee (great guide), we stopped at the Visitor's Center and collected a bit of verbal and printed information. The park consists of two sections--the Mountain Section, and River--and has a total of thirteen trails. On the advice of a ranger, we drove up to the parking area, where we stopped at the first of several overlooks. The view from each was worth the drive:

View from the parking area

Path to overlook

Portion of Big Pinnacle

After spending time at the overlooks, we continued on to Little Pinnacle, a slight rise located near Big Pinnacle. The elevation is higher and involves walking up a staircase of stone steps. But it provides a fabulous view of Big Pinnacle.

We stayed there for twenty or thirty minutes, enjoying the view, and watching more of the birds that call Pilot Mountain home.

But we wanted a closer look at that dome. For that, the ranger at the Visitor's Center recommended the .8 (point eight, not eight!) mile Jomeokee Trail, which circles the base.

Jomeokee Trailhead, located near the entrance to Little Pinnacle

The stretch between Little and Big Pinnacle sags like an old horse's back, so the initial path is quite steep:

It was a short walk to the dome, and along the way, we passed the entrance to the strenuous Ledge Trail. Without hiking packs, walking sticks, and water, we opted not to take it on this occasion. Next time. Soon, we entered the circular path around the dome.

And, wow.

Geology is not a subject I've had the opportunity--or the courage--to study, so I cannot begin to address the significance of what we saw. We did our best to take pictures of the massive layers of vertical and horizontal rock that formed the dome, as well as the various textures resulting from erosion (in some places, it appeared as if the rock were melting.)

It's well worth a visit to see it in person. And there's plenty to do at Pilot Mountain to make it a day long or weekend excursion. As I mentioned earlier, the park has two sections, and one of the longer trails travels from one to the other. In addition to hiking trails, the park also has bridle trails and a canoe launch. Rock climbing and camping are available in designated areas. Check with the park office for more information. The dome appears to be a rookery, and the paths are lined with rhododendron, so birding and wildflowering are also options during certain months.

NOTE: As with all outdoor destinations, if you decide to hike Pilot Mountain, please use caution. Don't venture near or onto ledges, and stay on the trails. Danger signs are posted around the park as a reminder. Please heed them.

Hanging Rock is nearby, as is Moore's Knob and Mt. Airy (Andy Griffith's hometown and the model for Mayberry.)

We hope to visit the park again soon, to hike the longer trails and to check out the river section. For more information on Pilot Mountain, including fees and trail closures, go to

To view the rest of the photos on our Smugmug site, click the image below:

2. and exploring north carolina's natural areas (pg 221-222)

Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute text or images without permission


Anonymous said...

Wow! I enjoyed your trip report and photos with my breakfast coffee this morning! Thank you so much. I was a great start to my day. You posted exactly what I was hoping for. I want to plan a trip to that area and I had no good info to make a decision. Now I do! :-)
Thanks for taking time to share it by writing up such an informative and entertaining report. It really blessed me. I love your trip reports and photos! You include everything. The only questions I have about Pilot Mtn. is this:
Do any of the trails lead to the summit of the dome? It looks like around on the back side there might be a way, but I can't tell.
{{{{Hugs}}}} Dana Bee

Kimberli said...

Thanks, Dana. I'm glad you enjoyed the report (I so wouldn't do this if others didn't like or benefit from the posts). I'm also glad you're planning a trip to the Sauratown Range. I loved it, but I think my husband fell in love with the area even more. That's sure to mean more visits in the near future. Hopefully this fall. Can you imagine what Pilot Mtn looks like adorned in autumn splendor?

Thanks for asking about a trail to the summit. It's a good question, one I neglected to address. The answer is no, and here's why.

If you look at the photo, the dome appears to rise straight up from the ground--and it really does! The rocks around the perimeter are vertical, so it's impossible to walk up. You'd have to rock climb, and at the moment, that's off limits. I'm told it's because of the rookery located on the summit. So the trail around the base (which we took) is the closest you can get. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Yes, that does help. With rock climbing opportunities almost within sight at Hanging Rock why would anyone want to climb Pilot Mtn and disturb the rookery and destroy the rock face?

Driving bolted climbs is damaging and takes away from the scene.

Glad climbing is off limits there.
Thanks for the answer and the explanation!
I hear you. I like writing my trip reports for me, but it is much more motivating if I think others may gain from them as well.


NCmountainwoman said...

We've never done Pilot Mountain, but you have inspired us to put that on the list. Nice post.

Kimberli said...

What a high compliment. Thank you!

Julie said...

Wow! As always, I love your pictures. I don't mean to sound like a broken! These are breathtaking. The information is invaluable. We're planning an autumn trip, so your info. is a big help.

Kimberli said...

I thought you'd like that, Julie. I'm so glad y'all are going in the autumn. I'm sorry I didn't get info on canoeing. Call the office or check the website for that. Also, check for closed trails. One of the roads was barricaded when we were there.

And no worries, because I know I DO sound like a broken record when I comment on your poetry! But how many times can one say amazing??