Hiking the Blue Ridge: Lookout Mountain

Lookout Peak Blue

Distance is never a clear indicator of challenge on a hike. A six-mile trail over flat terrain with a nice canopy and stable ground is a stroll, and you won’t break a sweat. Lookout Trail in Montreat offers the exact opposite: it is a hair over a half mile to the Little Lookout vantage point, and you earn every step.

Some quick stats from Summit Post: The trail is a fairly consistent 23% grade, ascending 700 vertical feet over that short .51-mile trail to 3,621 feet at Little Lookout. That’s brutal! Add some nice late-August heat and no cloud cover and I blew through a canteen real quick.

Of course, this is a popular trail, so most of the way up is a well-worn trail with some wooden stairs to help you ascend the mountain. Right before the peak those stairs end and you’re left with a scramble over rocks to get to your destination. This is the sort of thing I psyche myself out about, but it’s fairly easy as long as you go on all fours and take it slow. Usually, I’ll be experiencing my tinge of doubt over doing anything aside from walking up a gradual incline and that’s when a group of parents with small children breezes over the obstacle and I have to just go for it for sake of my pride alone.

Lookout Rocks

Once you’re over the rocks, it’s a quick couple steps to the vantage point, where you’ll get a perfect view of the nearby mountains. Every peak around Asheville offers a similar view of rolling forests stretching as far as you can see, but each one is different in its own way. 

Lookout with Kelly

I think of it like looking at the night sky—knowing every constellation opens up a whole new way of interpreting what’s above your head. Likewise, being able to spot a familiar peak off in the distance makes you appreciate the change in perspective from peak to peak. One day I’ll have a head full of mountain names and how tall their peaks are. Then, when I’m looking out at all the places I’ve been, all the mountains I’ve already summited, I’ll remember what it was like to look out from each of them. I realize up here you’re always looking at an adventure you had in the past, or one you’ll have in the future.

Lookout Peak Yellow

(Note: It is with immense regret that I don’t have any pictures of Poet, the 11-year-old Chinese Crested who hastens my pace on every hike. He flew up Lookout Trail, making the rocky sections look easy and waiting impatiently when I stopped to catch my breath. Here’s one of the world’s finest mountaineer and I from Black Balsam Knob to make up for it. Next time I’ll catch him in all his glory.)

Photo by Poet's human, Kelly Bailey

Photo by Poet's human, Kelly Bailey