View – this hike includes numerous view spots on the Lower Piney and Big Piney trails with views of Montreat and Black Mountain, winter views of the Asheville watershed and the Burnett Reservoir from the West Ridge Trail, views of Blue Ridge Pinnacle, Potato Knob and Clingman’s Peak from the summit of Graybeard Mountain and views of Black Mountain and the Swannanoa Valley from Walker’s Knob.
Hike Profile – the hike is a long loop that starts at the Lower Piney trailhead at the end of Suwannee Drive. From the Lower Piney trail, the hike follows the Big Piney trail to Rattlesnake Rock and on up to the summit of Big Piney (Brushy Knob) and the intersection with the West Ridge Trail. It runs along the West Ridge (the Seven Sisters Ridge) to the summit of Big Slaty where it intersects the Graybeard Trail for the trip to the summit of Graybeard Mountain. This ascent is quite strenuous for virtually the whole length.
The return from Graybeard Mountain is via the Graybeard Trail to the trailhead on Graybeard Trail Road. A short walk down the road to Suwannee Drive completes the loop.
Trail Surface – the Lower Piney, Big Piney and West Ridge trails are generally dirt and grass and dry. The West Ridge has many places where some rock scrambling is required. The Graybeard Trail is well-used and therefore much of the soil has been eroded away leaving rocks. There are sections of trails that climb fairly steeply with exposed rocks on the trail. Other sections descend steeply with trails that can be challenging when covered with dry leaves. There are several stream crossings with stepping stones. After a rain parts of the Graybeard Trail can become quite muddy.
Environment – much of the route goes through mountain side vegetation such as rhododendron, mountain laurel, blue berry bushes and some pine trees but mostly a canopy of hardwood trees.
Navigation – the hike involves numerous trails, but they are all marked and the intersections are easy to find and follow. The Big Piney Trail leaves from the Lower Piney Trail just after the view spot on the Lower Piney that features a bronze sign honoring the volunteers who built the Lower Piney trail. The Big Piney trail ends at the summit of Big Piney where it intersects with the West Ridge Trail. The West Ridge Trail is generally easy to follow but it is obscure in some spots. It follows a narrow ridge so you can’t go wrong if you stay on the center of the ridge and keep going up until you reach Big Slaty where there is an “open gate” and an intersection of trails. Graybeard Trail goes to the left for the short ascent to the rocky overlook on the summit of Graybeard Mountain.
When returning from Graybeard Mountain, at the intersection at “the gate,” take Graybeard trail to the left and descend to a hiking shelter in a clearing. On the west side (left side as your face the front of the shelter) of the clearing is the Walker’s Knob Trail, which makes a short ascent to the summit of Walker’s Knob. Return to the shelter and continue the descent on the Graybeard Trail which will make a series of long switchbacks following the Old Trestle Road before following Flat Creek south again. The trail turns left just before the first bridge and after a short distance exits across the bridge leading to the Walk Jones Wildlife Sanctuary on Graybeard Trail Road. Turn left and walk down the paved road to Suwannee Drive and the trailhead.
Directions to Trailhead – take Montreat Road north from Black Mountain. Past the Montreat Gate the road becomes Assembly Road and subsequently Graybeard Trail Road. About a mile beyond Lake Susan turn left onto Suwannee Drive. The trailhead for the Big Piney Ridge Trail is at the end of the road.