Pilot Mountain NC

First Day Hike at Pilot Mountain NC

January 1, 2017

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting – So… get on your way!”  Dr. Seuss

You are probably aware by now that we live near the southeast coast of North Carolina.  But we both grew up a few hours west, in the Piedmont foothills.  We get back periodically to visit, and we are always delighted when we can find time to visit an old friend – Pilot Mountain!

We’ve both always loved hiking the trails of Pilot Mountain State Park and climbing to enjoy the panoramic views.  This was even the location for some of our earliest dates so long ago! So when we were back in the area for New Year’s weekend, we made sure to pack hiking shoes and set aside time for a “First Day Hike” in the park.  There could be no better way to begin the New Year than to reconnect with our “highland” roots.

This rugged peak rises 2400′ from the Yadkin River valley about 15 miles northwest of Winston-Salem.  It is easily one of the most unique and recognizable geologic features in the entire state, if not all of the southeastern US.   As it is separated from the Appalachians even further to the west, it can be seen for miles in every direction. Even though the day was cool and threatening rain; we both felt a mixture of joy and nostalgia as we caught our first glimpse of Pilot Mountain as we headed out of town.

You can click any picture for a high-res version.  Click your “Back” button to return to the story after viewing.  Please see Creative Commons license notice at end of post. 

Pilot Mountain – along with nearby Sauratown Mountain and Hanging Rock – are remnants of the Saura Range, an ancient mountain chain even older than the Appalachians.  The geologic term for Pilot Mountain is “monadnock” or “inselberg” – an isolated mountain which rises from a relatively level plain. Due to it’s height from the Yadkin Valley, it has been used as a guidepost for Native travelers for thousands of years.  When it was first officially surveyed by 1751 by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (yes, Pres. Thomas Jefferson’s father), it was known by the native Saura tribe as “Jomeokee” – or the “Great Guide”.  To this day, it guides travelers on US-52 an I-77 as they pass through the area.

The geology of Pilot Mountain becomes even more interesting when you look a little closer.  The mountain is primarily metamorphic quartzite, which after millions of years of compression and millions more of erosion, still maintains the distinctive layering of its origin in sedimentary sandstone.  There are incredible 200′ cliffs, caves and erosion features everywhere you look.  But be sure not to get too distracted by the beauty!  While you are looking up, don’t walk off a ledge!

As you wander through the miles of trails you may notice that the fencing, benches, trail steps and tables are almost all made of local materials.

And oh what trails you’ll find!  Throughout the Park you will find dozens of miles – of hiking trails, bridle trails, canoe trails and climbing trails.  Far and away, our particular favorite is the Jomeokee Trail.  From the parking lot near the summit of the lower peak, you wind up and down through southern mountain forests, and do a complete loop of the base of the “Big Pinnacle” – the highest point of the mountain.  Here you can see geological wonders, perhaps observe rare and protected plants and animals, and always get a panoramic view of North Carolina (and into Virginia) which is beyond compare.

And if you look closely – with the right kind of eyes – you just might see ancient faces or mythical creatures guiding you around this magnificent peak.

While climbing is prohibited on the “Big Pinnacle” itself – and there are other places you will not want to venture without training and safety equipment – you will find plenty of opportunities to clamber and explore around the geologic features which surround you.  Just be sure to watch your step.  It’s a LONG way down in many places! Also pay attention to signs indicating areas that are subject to erosion or are blocked off for protection of protected plant and animal species.

Who knows?  You might even see something totally unexpected!  As we completed our First Day Hike and headed back to the parking lot, we encountered a local Llama herder who brought a couple of his wards to visit the mountain on this New Year’s Day.  It was heartwarming to see the children (and parents!) gathered around to meet “Mushu” and a friend, and learn about these interesting animals from South America.

So after a few hours reconnecting with the highland of our youth and enjoying yet another random encounter, it was time to head back to our hotel. Just as we hit the city limits of Winston-Salem, the clouds which threatened rain all day finally unleashed their downpour.  It was as if the skies were bidding us a bittersweet farewell – until our next visit to Pilot Mountain!

If You Go

In addition to the spectacular opportunities within Pilot Mountain State Park – hiking, camping, paddle sports, horseback riding and climbing – there are plenty of other adventures in the area.  Some great Bed and Breakfasts and restaurants may be found close to Pilot Mountain and nearby Hanging Rock State Parks.  Winston-Salem offers museums, live entertainment, and several brew pubs.  Great wineries can be found throughout the Yadkin Valley area. Make the trip!  You will not be disappointed.



Pilot Mountain State Park

Pilot Mountain – Wikipedia

Hanging Rock State Park

Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce

Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce

Yadkin Valley Tourism

Mushu the Llama on Facebook


Thanks for dropping by!  Check in often, as you never know what we’ve been up to!   Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter!


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

What does this mean?  Unless otherwise credited, all text, photos, audio or other components of this page were created by Picture The South.  Sharing is permitted and encouraged, but for non-commercial use only. Please give credit to source!  If you would like to use any of our works commercially, please contact us at picturethesouth@gmail.com to work something out.  Content of all external links is copyright by the respective owners, and is not governed by this license.


  1. Fun trip! I have family near Pilot Mountain and each time we took a road trip to the area, the mountain served as a beacon. We knew that once you could see the mountain, we were only 30 minutes from the house. Our first day hike was Dupont State Forest.

    • Depending on your direction of travel, “30 minutes” from Pilot Mountain might have put you in the neighborhood where we grew up!

Comments are closed