Starting across the park road from the Visitor Center parking area, the hike begins by ascending on the Grindstone Trail
following the blue and white circle trail blazes toward the summit. The trail will cross several small streams in the first section before passing a stone cabin. The trail then crosses the main park road at 0.4 miles, and continues its ascent on a wide forest road. The trail continues on to the family campground. A short spur trail leads to the campground at the 1.0 mile mark. Continue on the Grindstone Trail
until you reach a large trail junction at 1.4 miles.
To continue the Pilot Mountain Loop
follow the Mountain Trail
(Red Circle Blazes) and Mountains-to-Sea Trail Segment 7: Sauratown Trail (White Circle Blazes) to the right at this junction. This section of the trail is wide and follows a fire break line through the mixed pine forest. The trail is fairly level and well graded. The trail goes through several large boulder fields during this section.
As the Mountain Trail
rounds the southwest flank of the mountain it begins another ascent eventually reaching the highest point of the hike at 1,600 feet at the 3.2 mile mark of the hike. The trail then starts descending fairly steeply for the next 1.3 miles. Watch for the blazes marking a large switchback while coming down the mountain. At the 4.5 mile mark there is a trail junction the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Segment 7: Sauratown Trail turns off to the right.
At this trail junction, stay straight and follow the red circle blazes to continue on the Mountain Trail
. There will be a small sign indicating the Park Office 1 mile. The trail then crosses some small streams on large rocks as it winds around the eastern flank of Pilot Mountain. The trail is well graded and has only a slight grade as it makes its way back to the Park Office completing the hike.
This hike passes through forest typical of this part of the North Carolina Piedmont. It's a mixed hardwood and pine forest with several groves of rhododendron in the small creek drainages coming off the mountain.
There are many opportunities to see whitetail deer on the hike.