Entering the parking area at the Pisgah Fish Hatchery, drive to the far left side of the parking lot. The Cat Gap Trail begins at the trail information sign there.
From the trail kiosk at the Fish Hatchery parking lot, take the orange-blazed Cat Gap Trail. It parallels a trout creek and is easy to follow. You'll see lots of old campsites that are now listed as "no camping" due to overuse. The trail for the first mile or so is very level and sticks close to the creek.
Log jam from flooding along the Cat Gap Trail.
At the 1.5 mile point on Cat Gap Trail, the John Rock Trail begins on the right. You can continue on for another half mile and catch the other end of the John Rock Trail if you prefer (but the climb would be tougher).
[img:117726:aligncenter:medium:Rhododendron tunnel along the trail.
The John Rock Trail leaves the easy grade along the creek and tackles the ridgeline at a fairly easy grade. You will leave behind the hemlock-dominated forests around the creek and emerge into a classic cove hardwood forest slowly achieving maturity after being heavily logged early in the 20th century. You will cross a few small creeks and several springs that merge with the trail as a creekbed in some spots. Expect to get your boots wet.
After about 3/4 of a mile of steady, but not terribly steep climbing, you will achieve a broad ridgeline and soon come to the cliff face so obvious from the fish hatchery below. Be very careful here, for the cliffs drop off steeply and it is easy to hit the point of no return and begin sliding or falling. This is a rock climbing area--DON'T TOSS ANYTHING OFF THE CLIFFS! YOU CAN HIT ROCK CLIMBERS!
Finally breaking out of the forest onto the cliffs.
The cliffs of John Rock are not at the actual summit area. Upon leaving the cliffs, continue on the trail for about another one quarter mile to achieve the true double summit of John Rock, completely clothed in hardwood forests. After the second of the two broad summits, you will begin to descend steeply to a gap where, after 1.8 miles since hitting the John Rock Trail, you will intersect again with the Cat Gap Trail. Turn left for and continue to descend for about one half mile where you will again encounter the point where you will see the other end of the John Rock Trail.
Great campsites abound along the trail.
Retrace your steps back to the parking lot for a round trip of close to four miles and a total elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. I was surprised at how moderate a climb it was to the summit of John Rock. It's an easy hike (listed as "moderate" by the Forest Service) and a pleasant way to spend the day.
Good hiking boots. Hiking staff. Rain gear, if appropriate. Crampons if you encounter ice in the winter. There are some vast rocky sections that would be tough going if hiked in icy conditions.
Bring plenty of water, or a filtration device. There are no end of fresh water sources all along this trail. Creeks and springs and seeps abound.
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