Trail Recap: John Rock – Cat Gap Loop

Every once in a while during COVID quarantines, Samantha and I have gotten together for hikes or adventures (like her joining me to buy a mini fridge off someone on FB marketplace to make sure I didn’t get murdered… Thanks, Sam!). We met at Sierra Nevada when I interviewed and hired her for a Beer Adventurer position in December last year. She has an amazing personality, she’s so much fun to hang out with and talk to, and she’s always up for outdoor adventures (and doesn’t mind that I usually have to take a kiddo with).

So when I was Snapchatting her after a few glasses of wine about hanging out or hiking over the weekend, we put on our adventure hats and she suggested John Rock. It’s in Pisgah National Forest, so just in my backyard, and it’s one of those hikes I’ve been wanting to do but have avoided due to the crowds.

We parked at the fish hatchery in Pisgah and caught the Cat Gap trailhead on the south end of the lot from there. The trail is very well maintained – I’m sure in part to the level of traffic it sees during “leaf-peeper season,” and while it was tough with Clara on my back, it wasn’t like I had to stop and take breaks… Just a really good workout!

I had never been to John Rock before so I didn’t know what to expect. When you get to the top, there are 3 different places you can pop out for the overview. We did the first one to the right, and then popped back on the trail to head up to the middle. John Rock is just a HUGE slab at the top of a small mountain. Not quite a bald, because there are trees and foliage on one side, but you get an enormous 180-degree (at least!) view of Pisgah and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s very clear why this would be a popular hike during peeper-season.

The rock isn’t flat. I mean, it is – but it’s a slanted cliff-face. As soon as I took Clara out of the backpack I regretted it. It made me really uncomfortable! I had visions of her falling down and just tumbling off the edge. We kept our distance from the edge and I tried to keep her focused on some snacks. She’s very curious and loves adventures and exploring so this didn’t work at all.

The most adorable thing was at the top, Clara kept holding her hands up and saying “it’s incredible!” For an almost-two-year-old, this was just about the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. She just kept saying it over and over again! She also told Sam all about her adventures, and she even said she could hear a waterfall (it was definitely the wind, but it did kind of sound like a waterfall). I loved that she found the most joy in climbing up the slab a little ways, and then running down it… even though I was trying not to panic and just let her explore. Sam also taught her how to bear crawl up the steep parts!

We headed out after taking in the sights at the top, and decided to continue on through the loop. You can just climb down and make it an out-and-back… I don’t think the distance is that much different either way.

Clara fell asleep for most of the hike down, and Samantha and I chatted along the way. There really was only one section where we had to take out the All Trails app and make sure we kept on the right pathway. It was after a decent, when you come out to a 4 or 5 way intersection. The signage is a little ambiguous but if you know how to read blazes, it wasn’t all that unclear. We continued on the orange blazed trail toward the parking lot (as opposed to adding on the yellow blazed loop… it makes sense when you get to this intersection).

Overall, this was a beautiful hike, I loved that we had it almost to ourselves! I wouldn’t mind trying to run it sometime without Clara, and I think it would be a great, but challenging go. I’m sure this is a VERY busy hike even with the distance and elevation gain of 1100+ feet. I also really liked the parking situation. So many Pisgah hikes are just pull-offs on the side of the road, but having access to the fish hatchery was awesome.

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