On New Years Eve two of us decided to do an off-trail hike to the Greenbrier Pinnacle, a trail that hasn’t been maintained or on the map in close to 15 years. I’ve been wanting to do this hike for as long as I’ve known a trail existed here and with the perfect weather we had that day, close to 60 degrees and blue skies, it was a perfect day to do so. I have to say that Greenbrier Pinnacle is now my favorite “trail” in the Smokies.
We started our hike with a ride up through Big Greenbrier and back to the Ramsey’s Cascade trailhead. Imagine our surprise that we were the only car up there that morning! Very uncommon for this area. We started our hike up the Ramsey’s Cascade Trail and up the old gravel road that used to run this area. At mile 1.5 the trail comes to the old traffic circle and signs direct you toward Ramsey’s. We, however, would turn left here and go through a rhododendron tunnel up towards the pinnacle. I had high hopes that our trail would continue to be this well-defined and it turns out my hopes panned out. Our entire trip up this trail, save for one very large blow-down that required us to crawl underneath, was in excellent and very followable shape. There was one stream crossing about 0.3 miles up this trail, but other than that we had dry trail and good footing with minimal rocks. Someone has truly maintained this trail very well with evidence of sawed logs and pathways being marked.
The trail winds up the mountain via long switchbacks which made for gentle climbing. Toward the top there is an excellent overlook, called Man Overboard according to our GPS, with unobstructed views of Brushy Mountain and Mount LeConte. About 0.25 miles past this is an awesome overhang with a cave on your right. About 0.25 miles past this is the overlook near the top of Greenbrier Pinnacle with a great place to sit and take in the views. From this point, one can go on 0.4 miles up to the top of the Pinnacle, but this is where the trail maintenance stopped. Looking up the trail, it was heavily overgrown with laurel and rhododendron and there was a defined path, but it looked a little dicey. We decided to stay here and enjoy the views since we knew the Pinnacle would be overgrown, the tower had been removed, and we wouldn’t see much from here. The views from this point were absolutely phenomenal. You could see so far on this clear day, as we saw not only LeConte, but we followed ridgelines and saw Cove Mountain and even could spot Rocky Top and Thunderhead. You could hang over the rocks and look back to see Old Black and Guyot, follow the AT and all the high points… it was just breathtaking.
On our way back down the trail, we actually did pass two other dayhikers about halfway up. I was both surprised and not surprised, given the great shape of the trail, that we’d seen anyone that day. All of the reading I’ve done about this trail online did tell me that everyone that hikes this trail does see other hikers though. We made it back down the trail uneventfully. When we got back on the Ramsey’s Cascade Trail we saw plenty of dayhikers and lots of people with children. The parking lot was absolutely packed full with no place to park and someone waiting to take our parking space. This gem of a trail is truly my favorite to hike in the park and I definitely recommend it for a warm winter day.