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Art Loeb / Little East Fork Loop

An epic all-day hike, overnight trip, or trail run through Shining Rock Wilderness.

Hiking Difficult

20 km
923 m
923 m
5-6 hrs
Low Point
997 m
High Point
1.8 km
Art Loeb / Little East Fork Loop Map

Second to the Old Butt Knob/Shining Creek Path Loop, this is the must-do hike in Shining Rock Wilderness. Set aside an entire day if you're hiking, or 3-4 hours if you plan to trail run the loop. Camping opportunities are in no short supply—both Shining Rock Gap and Deep Gap offer the most reliable options.


This loop begins on Little East Fork Road at Camp Daniel Boone. Parking is limited, so consider carpooling if you're hiking with a group. This is also the trailhead for the Art Loeb Trail, so there are usually a few cars there for those thru-hiking the entire 31-mile trail.

Though this can be hiked either direction, counter-clockwise is somewhat easier. From the Art Loeb Trailhead kiosk, continue up Little East Fork Road. After you walk through the campground, the unpaved dirt road turns to chunky two-track and begins a long steady climb along the river. You shouldn't have to get your feet wet, but there are plenty of opportunities to find a quiet swimming hole on your way up. Though the climb is challenging, it is remarkably steady.

A few miles in, the trail departs the river and spirals up to the ridgeline. As you continue, notice how foliage transitions into a dark spruce/fir mixture. Relatively rare in the southern Appalachians, these stunning evergreen trees resemble the mountains of New England.

The first junction is with Ivestor Gap Trail. Keep left for a final push to Shining Rock Gap. The next intersection is far more difficult to navigate. Since all of this hike is located within a designated wilderness area, trails are neither signed nor blazed, and trail junctions often have no markings. At the gap, the Art Loeb (immediately to your left) is the route you will return on. Shining Rock, however, is accessed via a well-traveled side trail to the overlook. Look for a trail that leads around the massive white rock.

In the summer, you can find an abundance of both blueberries and blackberries, though their briers can make for slow going. The centerpiece of the wilderness, Shining Rock is a massive quartzite rock outcropping with epic 360-degree views, even in the summer. On a clear day, you can view most of the Great Balsam Mountains, Tennent Mountain, Black Balsam Knob, and Mount Hardy clearly visible along the ridge to the south. In contrast, Shining Rock can be clearly identified from countless peaks in the region.

The return trip follows the Art Loeb through its most challenging section. Though it's nothing compared to the climb over Pilot Mountain, The Narrows are the most difficult section to navigate and where most hikers get lost. In general, the trail follows the ridge or skirts just below the peak, so if you begin descending more than a few steps, you're likely off the trail. Along the way, you'll scramble up a few rocky outcroppings with epic views—mostly to the west.

After leaving The Narrows, the Art Loeb descends to Deep Gap. Straight ahead, the Cold Mountain Trail leads to the summit, the Art Loeb turns left and begins a long descent back to the trailhead.

If you need water, you'll pass several year-round streams to refuel at—but be sure to use a filter or treat it first.



Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

between March and November


  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Summit Hike
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area