OverviewHorse Rock is an unofficial Southern Sixer that lies between Gibbs Mountain and Celo Knob along the rugged Black Mountain Crest Trail. At 6,120 feet, it’s a major eastern peak, but is no longer considered to have the necessary criteria to be on any official list of peaks. I assume that it lacks the needed gap between itself and Celo Knob.
For my money, though, it remains a destination in and of itself. There are three trail routes one may take to gain the summit. Two of them would be via the Black Mountain Crest Trail, either from Deep Gap or from the northern terminus at Bolens Creek. Both of these are rugged and strenuous hikes involving some scrambling, long approaches, and quite a bit of gain in elevation.
But the toughest hike to the top, disallowing a bushwhack, is the infamous Woody Ridge Trail. This is one tough route! A combination hike/scramble, it passes through a beautiful cove hardwood forest and into a poplar/hemlock mix then to a spruce-fir forest and finally out onto a combination grass/heath bald just south of Celo Knob.
Along this very tough trail, you will climb across several exposed ridges, beneath some overhanging ledges, through some unusual forest types, and finally onto a high cliff with some of the finest views in the Black Mountains. Much of the land is under National Forest protection, and a bit of acreage is administered by the Nature Conservancy. From this vantage point, one can see the steady creep of construction sprawl in the form of golf courses and housing developments and logging operations. And the hemlock trees are all but extinct now in this part of the Blacks—the hemlock wooly adelgid now having taken their deadly toll on our two native hemlock species. Hemlocks rise brown and dead all along the steep slopes as you gain the summit.
This part of the Black Mountains is also a bear sanctuary, and it is not unusual to encounter them. Most people rarely see them on the higher slopes, with most sightings and encounters taking place in the valleys. Still, it’s wise to be bear aware anywhere in the Blacks. The spine of the ridge is also a great place to view wildflowers in season, especially late May and early June when Catawba rhododendron, mountain laurel, and flame azalea are peaking.
Winter travel in the Blacks can be risky. If hiking or backpacking in severe winter weather, be prepared for extremes.
From NC 80S take SR1155. Drive two miles to SR1156 (some maps show this as SR1157--this is wrong!). Drive SR1156 until it dead ends in a gravel parking lot. The Woody Ridge Trail begins at the back of the parking area.
CampingThere are tons of camping opportunities along the trails near Horse Rock. There is almost no water after the first few hundred feet of the Woody Ridge Trail, so be sure to carry plenty of water if heading up to camp. The bear population density is high, so take all precautions for camping in bear country. The Woody Ridge Trail is one of the steepest and most rugged that I've hiked, but there are some good, level campsites along the trail.
External LinksCelo Knob (Nature Conservancy)
Cradle of Forestry Campgrounds (including Black Mountain and Carolina Hemlocks)
Mount Mitchell State Park