John Rock Trail loop: Pisgah National Forest, N.C.

A leafy-green canopy. A trail that meanders like the river it travels along. Crisp, mountain air. A wide, rounded rock face for resting upon. Breathe deeply and stretch as tall as the trees, as you travel down the John Rock Trail.

Get ready: Unlike many other trails in Western North Carolina that afford you gorgeous views, the John Rock Trail is very easy to find. It’s nestled off the main thoroughfare through the Pisgah National Forest. From Brevard, take a right off Highway 280 W onto Highway 276 N. This will take you into Pisgah. A little more than five miles later, turn left at the sign for Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.

Get set: Park at the center (there are nice, clean bathrooms), and start your trek by following Forest Service Road 475C (to the left of the building). Walk around the gate, cross a bridge (with a nice little creek running underneath), and turn right onto Cat Gap Loop Trail (marked with orange blazes).

Go: Only a mile up the trail, and you’ll hear something magical; follow the sounds of falling water down a short trail on the left. Cedar Rock Falls is about 1/4 mile down the little path. You can climb across the mossy, wet rocks and duck under the waterfall if you’d like to cool off. Back on the main trail, when it intersects with the Cat Gap Connector trail, turn left onto the Cat Gap Connector. At the next trail intersection, turn left on the yellow blazed Cat Gap Bypass trail. About a half mile later, you’ll come across a four way intersection. Take the John Rock Trail on the left. You’ll ascend the knob, walk downhill, and then back uphill, emerging on the face of John Rock as you start to descend again. Be careful; it’s a very steep and slippery when wet! When you’re done taking it all in, follow the trail on the right, heading downhill and eventually connecting back to the Cat Gap Loop (orange blazes). You’ll end the hike along the meandering Davidson River.

Effort: It’s a solid five mile loop. You get a good amount of ups/downs while slowly gaining around 1,000 feet in elevation. It was raining when we did it, so we were moving pretty briskly, but rain or shine, you’ll work up a sweat.

Takeaway: Even in bad weather and an initial mishap (the boyfriend got distracted and started up the wrong trail :p), the hike was very enjoyable. There was a nice variation in the landscape; from patches of more densely populated forest, to more sparse ones. The waterfall, streams and river at the end are delightful. Oh, and the view of Looking Glass Rock from John Rock is incredible.