Hike the Rock Jock Trail

Pinch In Trail - Search Nearby - Added by Carolina Trekker

The Rock Jock Trail (RJT) is a rugged and remote, moderate-to-strenuous 6-mile hike along Dogback Mountain in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. You won't find more dramatic views of the gorge than this.

One of the first things I noticed when researching this hike was the conflicting information regarding finding the trail head, length of the hike, and the hike's correct route. Hopefully, as of September 2017, this report will contain the most up-to-date information currently available.

To find the trailhead, drive south (north if entering at the far end) on Kistler Memorial Highway, or NC 1238 (aka Old NC 105) located off Highway 183 in the Linville Gorge area. The road is one lane and unpaved. It is rough in some sections, and on the day of this hike, rougher than I'd seen it before. 

I recommend this as a shuttle hike, as the trail is a point-to-point route.  Park one vehicle at the Conley Cove trail head, the other at the Pinch In trailhead. You have two options: Beginning the RJT from the southern entrance, which is accessed by parking at Pinch In and walking up Kistler Memorial Highway 1/4 mile to a wand marker with "ROCK JOCK" on it, located on the right side of the road. Or, you can park at the Conley Cove trail head and hike the southern route, exiting at the wand and walking to Pinch In trail head. We opted to leave one car at Pinch In and drove the other to Conley Cove where we started the hike. This will be the route described here. 

The hike is a relatively short trek overall, but several factors make it an all day hike. 

There are numerous side scrambles that lead to overlooks. Most of them are short, but picking over the rocks and admiring the views will exhaust more time and mileage than you think. One of my hiking partner's mileage app clocked the hike at just over 6 miles, including side scrambles.

Next, after 2.5 miles, the trail ends on the USGS map. However, the trail does continue on. Therefore, knowledge of map reading and wayfinding is essential. I would not recommend you continue past the obvious trail without map reading skills. There are stretches where the trail seemingly disappears, and it would be very easy to become disoriented and get lost. Since the RJT is in a designated wilderness area, the trails are not blazed.

Also, the trail is not maintained very well after it ends on the map. There are numerous trees across the trail, many of them quite large. There are several boulder fields that feature loose, slippery rocks. Twisting an ankle seems fairly easy. Overgrowth obscures the trail along other stretches. Some sections of the trail requires tough climbs up a narrow, wet trail, many along sheer drop-offs. 

Finally, the last mile or so is a steep climb to the road with around 700 feet in elevation gain. It's a lung buster!   

All these factors combine to make a moderate hike a slow, methodical trek that could easily burn an entire day. We began at 8:00 am and finished around 3:00 pm.

The Hike

Follow the Conley Cove trail for around 1/4 mile. You will see a wooden sign indicating the Rock Jock Trail bearing right.

The trail here is relatively level and meanders through rhododendron. After a short distance you will begin to notice unmarked obvious side trails. These lead to look out points off the main trail. Since you will be following the ridge along Dogback Mountain, Linville Gorge will be to your left the entire hike if hiking south. This side of the gorge is often referred to as the Golden Coast.

Many of the scenic outcrops have unofficial names such as Fern Point, Razor's Edge, Zen Point, and Mossy Creek Canyon. For most, these views will be a real treat, as this side of Linville Gorge is not as popular as the eastern side and are not as often seen. There are spectacular views as Hawksbill, Table Rock, the Chimneys, and Shortoff Mountain across the gorge for the entire hike. You can see the Linville River snaking through the gorge 1,000 feet below. We spotted several patches of Fall foliage among the green hardwoods and evergreens.

I counted at least 10 different campsites as well. This trail has several excellent places to watch the sun set or rise over Linville Gorge. 

Another great feature of the RJT is the solitude. We hiked it on a clear Saturday morning and did not pass another hiker the entire trek. You can't say that about Hawksbill or Table Rock! 

The official trail ends shortly after a series of dramatic outcroppings called Balancing Rock, which overlooks a point that (I think) is called Moonshine Canyon. You'll notice that the trail begins to narrow and blow down becomes more common. You'll come to the first of several boulder fields. Simply plow through these and the trail will become visible on the other side. My advice is to follow the natural curve of the terrain. Hikers and animals are looking for the path of least resistance, and the trail, even when unmarked, is normally along these paths. 

There is one point where you'll arrive at a dark cove and a mossy, wet mess of boulders in front of you in which the trail appears nonexistent. Follow the seepage ditch up the boulders and you'll catch the trail at the top, just before a wall of rhododendron. You'll encounter several more areas similar to this, but keep going through them, being careful not to twist an ankle or fall off the side of the gorge in the process!

Other landmarks you'll pass are sheer cliff faces and a couple of caves. During the wet season, there are several small waterfalls along the trail as well.

After weaving in and out of the shaded areas, you'll gradually ascend to a more open area that has been decimated by wildfires. Charred tree trunks litter both sides of the trail. There are superb views to the left. The trail becomes more obvious here.

As you continue to ascend, notice the trail becomes fine white sand. After a short distance you will begin the final upward push to the trail's southern terminus. Take a few deep breaths and sips of water here, you'll need it. The trail plows straight up the mountain with no real switchbacks. If you stop to take a breather, look behind you: you can see Shortoff Mountain and Lake James. Finally, you'll suddenly step out onto Kistler Memorial Highway. Walk to the left about 1/4 mile to the Pinch In trail head. Congratulations, you made it! 

Additional considerations

Though we did not see any black bears, we did see scat along the trail, as well as a claw print. Because of the overgrown areas, it'd be wise to carry a whistle or talk through these areas. 

One of my hiking partners was attacked by hornets (aka yellowjackets) in one of the cove sections of the trail. Yellowjackets often make nests in rotting logs and there are plenty of them along the RJT.

Much of the hike is exposed cliff side and the rocks and boulders tend to heat things up. Carry extra water and sunscreen. 

We were originally going to hike a 12-mile loop starting at Pinch In down to Linville Gorge, up Conley Cove and then along Rock Jock. After reading the trail reports, I decided we'd only hike the Rock Jock. This decision turned out to be one of my better ideas. Again, it is a very slow trail due to the side scrambles, obstacles, and difficulty following the trail. Rock Jock itself could easily be a an overnighter. As the local saying goes: "One mile in the Gorge seems like two."

 

Distance

6 Miles RT

Elevation Gain

700 ft Gain

Type

Point-to-Point

Activities

Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Nearby Lodging

Asheville East KOA

Swannanoa, North Carolina

Boone KOA

Boone, North Carolina

Asheville West KOA

Candler, North Carolina

Bristol / Kingsport KOA

Blountville, Tennessee

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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