By Bill Gowan
Thanksgiving of 1977, I joined some friends on my first-ever backpacking trip to Shining Rock Wilderness. Growing up in the foothills of Rutherford County, I had spent a lot of time outdoors and in the woods, hunting, hiking and camping. I thought I had a good idea of what I was in for, but backpacking as an activity and Shining Rock as a destination made such an impression that I've returned there again and again.
Driving in, it was clear that these were some impressive peaks, but the real grandeur of the wilderness revealed itself hour-by-hour as we hiked. Over the years, I walked most of these trails and came to know the diverse landscape and plant and animal life. On a three-day hike, you can walk over bald knobs covered in grasses, through patches of scrubby pine trees, of dense hardwood, fields of fern, walls of rhododendron and mountain laurel. The valleys offer welcoming campsites next to rushing creeks. Take the trails that go up and across the ridges and you'll look out over miles of tree-covered mountain peaks. (Looking down at the distant lights of Brevard from one of those trails one cold night during that first backpacking trip, my friend John said, "There's a warm bed under every one of those lights.") The quartz outcropping known as Shining Rock is a fabulous spot to take in a sunset.
Shining Rock Wilderness has been the site of many good memories for me, including a tenth anniversary trip with my wife and an introductory trip for my son and godson. A few days in Shining Rock is an outstanding way to leave the world behind; I'm looking forward to my next visit!
Thanks to our guest writer this month, Bill Gowan. Bill lives in Raleigh with his wife and son, and works as a project manager in product development for Plexus Engineering Solutions. Many of his photos are found on our website www.OurWildNC.org and his Shining Rock album covering several decades can be viewed at