4,000 foot Sitting Bear Mountain is situated on the east rim of Linville Gorge in Burke County, North Carolina. Linville Gorge Wilderness area which is part of the Pisgah National Forest – Grandfather Ranger district. The 12,000 acre wilderness area is one of the most rugged and scenic gorges in the eastern United States. The Linville Gorge Wilderness area is rich in both plant and animal life. There are five species of rare plants, several varieties of rhododendron which explode with color in late spring, and virgin forests hidden in the deep coves. Sand myrtle, red chokeberry, azalea, turkey beard, bristly locust, yellow root, silverbell, orchids, ninebark, and wild indigo are among the many plant species hikers may encounter on their trip. Animal species include deer, bear, squirrel, raccoon, grouse, turkey, vultures, owls, hawks, as well as brown and rainbow trout. Copperheads and timber rattlesnakes both make their home in the area. Topographic maps and other information can be obtained from Linville Cabin visitor’s center which is open April 15 - November 1 9:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M. The rangers and volunteer staff who man the visitor’s center are extremely helpful and are happy to pass along their intimate knowledge of the region. Linville Cabin is located on Kistler Memorial Highway just past the Linville Falls pull-out on the west rim of the gorge.
The reward for ascending Sitting Bear, which includes what has to be one of the steepest sections of trail in North Carolina, is a limitless view of the Linville Gorge Wilderness from an overlook situated just below the summit off the Jonas Ridge Trail on the southern slope of the mountain. There is a nice boulder here which is a perfect place to sit, chill and take in the dramatic landscape. From this overlook there is a commanding view of Hawksbill Mountain (4,020 ft.) and Table Rock Mountain (3,680ft.) rising out of the east rim of the gorge to the south. You can also see Laurel Knob (4,040 ft.) to the west and Green Mountain (3,480) to the southwest. Thousands of feet below this vantage point is a spectacular view the Linville River cutting its way through deep gorge below.
Directions to the Devils Hole/Jonas Ridge spur trailhead on the east rim of Linville Gorge:
From Asheville take I-40 West to U.S. 221. Follow 221 to the intersection of N.C. 183 at Linville Falls. Turn right of N.C. 183 and continue to 181. Turn right on N.C. 181 and go three miles Gingercake Road (F.S. 210). Turn right onto Gingercake Road (there will be a sign that reads “Gingercake Acres”). Bear left at the first fork and continue through the Gingercake Acres subdivision. The paved road will end once you are within the boundaries of the Linville Gorge Wilderness. From here, the road consists of a gravel/dirt surface which wind around the rim of the gorge. Some of the grades on this road are quite steep and may present problems for 2-wheel-drive vehicles in muddy or snowy conditions. Approximately 2 miles from Gingercake Acres is the trailhead for Sitting Bear Mountain. There are 2 signs at the trailhead. One reads “Sitting Bear,” the other “Linville Gorge Wilderness, Pisgah National Forest.” There is limited parking at the trailhead but usually this is not a problem. Most day-hikers choose to climb the more popular Table Rock Mountain and Hawksbills Mountain to the south.
The Jonas Ridge Trail goes right over the summit of Sitting Bear Mountain. The summit clearing is surrounded by a forest which obscures the views. As you follow the Jonas Ridge Trail across the summit toward Gingercake Mountain, there couple of overlooks on the right before the trail descends down the north side of the mountain.
Several rock formations along the Jonas Ridge Trail near the summit of Sitting Bear Mountain offer a challenge to experienced rock climbers. There are five routes on the free-standing pillar located just before the final ascent to the summit. According to the Climber’s Guide to North Carolina by Thomas Kelley, the routes on Sitting Bear pillar have difficulty rating of 5.2 - 5.10.
Emergency Information for rock climbers:
Burke County Emergency Service 828-437-1911
NC Outward Bound Table Rock Base camp 828-437-6124
Grace Hospital, Morganton 828-438-2000
Grandfather District Ranger's Office in Nebo, NC is 828-652-2144.
Light to medium rack adequate, no need for small or large extremes. The rock is usually featured enough that it takes gear well. Larger hexes are useful. The rock seems to take nuts and tricams well. 50 meter ropes are adequate. There are some double rope rappels. Plan extra time for approaches and exits.
There are several primitive campsites located in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. There are a couple of good campsites on the Devil’s Hole/Jonas Ridge spur trail and a couple more off the Jonas Ridge Trail on and around the summit. Free permits are required for camping only on weekends and on holidays that fall between May 1 and October 31. Permits are not required November 1 – April 30. Reservations are taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Group sizes cannot exceed 10. Obviously, the further out in the backcountry you are, the less likely it is that you will run into noisy people. Theft and vandalism is reportedly rare. Table Rock has new bathroom facilities. Be prepared to pack out your recyclables. There is a Chevron station with a small store (no beer) on 181 if you continue past Gingercake Acres. They have many useful amenities like firewood, a grill, ice, hot pizza, sundries.
For permits contact:
Grandfather Ranger District
109 East Lawing Drive
Nebo, N.C. 28761