The Rockjock Trail resides in the southwest quadrant of the Linville Gorge Wilderness. This 2.8 mile trail hugs the cliffs of the gorge’s Gold Coast offering stunning views to the north, south and east. There are several spur trails to a number of side canyons leading to the cliffs, including Sunshine Point, Zen Point and Razor’s Edge, among others. Dogback Mountain can also be reached from the Rockjock.
While the trail can be used for a backpacking trip, the Rockjock makes an excellent choice for a full dayhike. Due to the number of side trails and cliffs to explore it would be easy to spend a full day hiking and scrambling in the area without necessarily getting in an excessive amount of mileage.
Due to a fire in 2000 the old Rockjock Trail was partially destroyed and the new Rockjock Trail was built. Because of the fire, views into the gorge are plentiful and often unobstructed. However, due to the open canopy there is not a lot of shade and on a hot, sunny, humid, North Carolina summer day the heat makes this a very strenuous hike. The trail is rugged enough. The direct sun only adds to the challenge.
Getting ThereThe Rockjock can be hiked either north to south or vice versa. If starting from the north, which is what I recommend, use the Conley Cove Trailhead.
There is no parking available at the southern terminus of the Rockjock. So if starting from the south you will need to park at the Pinchin Trailhead and walk the Kistler Memorial Highway for approximately a half mile to reach the Rockjock.
To reach the Conley Cove Trailhead take US 221 in Linville Falls, NC to NC 183 to the Kistler Memorial Highway. The Kistler Highway is a gravel road. Follow this for 5.3 miles to the Conley Cove Trailhead. To reach the Rockjock Trail, follow the Conley Cove Trail for approximately 1000 feet, where there is trail sign for the Rockjock Trail.
From the Conley Cove Trailhead it is another 2.9 miles on the Kistler Memorial Highway to reach the Pinchin Trailhead.
The Kistler Memorial Highway is not a “real” highway, but a dirt road, generally passable for 2WD vehicles. There is a very steep, rough section of road south of Wiseman’s View on the way to the Conley Cove Trailhead. 2WD vehicles may have a difficult time on this section.
RouteThe Rockjock Trail is 2.8 miles in length and hugs the cliffs of the gorge’s Gold Coast. There are not a lot of directions to include for the Rockjock! If you stay on the trail there is nothing very complicated about the route. It’s just an end to end hike with very little elevation gain or loss. That being said:
A Rugged Trail
The Rockjock is a very rugged trail. The terrain is challenging as there are numerous downed trees that you will need to climb over or under. The trail can be difficult to follow at times as there are no trail signs and there are a number of spur trails leading off to the eastern cliffs. It is very easy to head down the wrong path, and many hikers have! The trail is narrow at times with plenty of thorns and nettles to scrape up your arms and legs.
Cliffs and Canyons
Besides the stunning views of the gorge that can be seen from the trail, the real gems are found off the main trail as there are a number of points, cliffs and canyons that can be reached via spur trails. Some of these, such as Hacker’s Point and T-Shirt Point, are less than 50 feet from the main trail and can be seen from the trail. Others, such as Zen Point and Razor’s Edge, can’t be seen from the trail and involve hikes and scrambles of over ¼ mile to reach them.
The following picture of the Gold Coast cliffs comes from the website www.linvillegorge.net, a very valuable resource of information for all things Linville Gorge! Several of the cliffs and canyons on the northern half of the trail are annotated in this picture.
Linville Gorge's Gold Coast as seen from Tablerock
Of course the beauty of this is that Linville Gorge is a wilderness area, and none of these cliffs or overlooks are marked. There are no trail signs pointing the way. It can be a real adventure trying to locate some of these cliffs. Expect plenty of bushwhacking and scrambling. Local trail advocates have placed some flags in spots and nailed some trail signs to trees to help you along the way, but that is the only help you’ll get.
North to South
The Rockjock Trail can be hiked from either the north or the south, and with the trail starting and ending at two different trailheads, the Rockjock does make a good option for a one-way, two car hike.
If you are going to do an out and back hike then I would recommend hiking from North to South. This offers a few advantages. First, you will avoid having to hike the road from the Pinchin Trailhead. Second, once you reach Mossy Canyon Ridge at the southern end of the trail you can turn around at this point. There isn’t a particularly good reason to climb over 500 vertical feet up Mossy Canyon Ridge to just reach the road and then turn around.
Backcountry CampingThere is a large campsite just south of the junction of the Conley Cove Trail and the northern terminus of the Rockjock Trail. This campsite is approximately a quarter mile from the Conley Cove Trailhead parking area.
Between May 1 and October 31st, permits are required for backcountry camping on holidays and weekends. Reservations are taken on a first-come first-serve basis, beginning the first working day of each previous month. Length of stay is limited to two nights, and the group size cannot exceed 10. Contact the Grandfather District Ranger Station at 828-652-2144 to make reservations. There is no fee to obtain a permit.
Essential GearPack plenty of water! There is very little shade on the Rockjock so on a summer day it can get very hot. Even if you bring filtering equipment, there are very few water sources available along the trail.
I highly recommend wearing pants instead of shorts! Between all the thorns, downed branches and the nettles, if you wear shorts your legs will get scraped up quite a bit.