Tackling “The Big Nipple” – Pinnacle, NC

With Betsy’s annual check-up completed and her new “shoes” installed, we were excited to end our “parking lot camping” and get back on the road.  Our destination this time was Pilot Mountain, near Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Pilot Mountain
Pilot Mountain viewed from Highway 52

Pilot Mountain is capped by a prominent pinnacle called the Big Nipple, or Big Pinnacle. That’s the knob of rock on the left in the image above.  The curved depression between the ridge sloping to Little Pinnacle to the right gives the entire mountain a distinctive shape from a distance, especially from highway 52.

Big Pinnacle, Pilot Mountain
The Big Pinnacle of Pilot Mountain

The close-up shot above of Big Pinnacle shows that it has walls of bare rock and a rounded top covered by trees.  Those walls rise 200 feet, and below is a shot I took of them on the day we hiked up there.

Big Pinnacle, Pilot Mountain
Looking up at the amazing rock formations from the base of Big Pinnacle

Naturally, we were inspired to hike up to the base of the Big Pinnacle.  That’s as high as we could go, since the sheer rock walls of the pinnacle are impassable.  As usual, we stopped by the Pilot Mountain State Park office to learn how this mountain got its name.

We learned that the mountain was known as Jomeokee, the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.”  It guided both Native Americans and early European hunters along a north-south path through the area.  Rising to an elevation of 2421 feet, this solitary quartzite mountain, part of the ancient Sauratown Mountain range, has been dedicated as a National Natural Landmark and was now our beacon to hike and explore.

Base of Big Pinnacle

Big Pinnacle, Pilot Mountain
How the heck can trees survive on those rocks?

There’s an easy way to get to the top, and that is to drive all the way up and park your car, then take a short walk to enjoy the vistas from Little Pinnacle Overlook.  From there, another short walk will get you to the base of the Big Pinnacle.  But you don’t think we did it the easy way, do you?  Of course not!

Pilot Mountain
View of the town of Pilot Mountain
Big Pinnacle, Pilot Mountain
Layered stone is what we saw around the base of Big Pinnacle
Little Pinnacle Overlook
View from Little Pinnacle Overlook

Instead, we combined three of the park’s trails on our first hike.  We started on the Grindstone Trail, which we followed for three miles from the entrance parking lot to the top of Little Pinnacle.  Then we picked up the Jameokee Trail, a .8 mile loop around the shoulder of Big Pinnacle.   Finally, on our way back down we followed the Ledge Spring Trail, a long, steep rocky descent.

We stopped at a cliff along the trail to enjoy the views of the surrounding countryside, as we searched for Betsy from Big Pinnacle.  The other rig you see below wasn’t there when we left home, and it was gone when we got back from our 7-mile hike.  Strange…

Big Pinnacle, Pilot Mountain
Betsy at the far left – she looked so lonesome down there
Big Pinnacle, Pilot Mountain
Our only wildlife sighting, a scared deer along Ledge Spring Trail

On another day we tackled the southern leg of the mountain, this time combining the Grindstone Trail, Mountain Trail and Grassy Ridge Trail, for a total of 8 miles.  Although the Mountain Trail is rated strenuous, it was really a piece of cake after our previous hike, as there was very little elevation change and we were basically just walking around the mountain.  There were no boulders or rocks to scramble over, which is what we usually consider strenuous.

Mountain Trail
Strenuous?  Not!

Mountain Trail

American Turtle
Our only wildlife on the second hike, a tortoise who didn’t look too happy to see me

Admission to this state park was free, and we hiked all of its trails during our stay.  Now that’s what we call a good stop!

Next, we decided to head up to Mount Airy, NC to look around, since it was less than 20 miles away.  Some of you may know that Mount Airy is also known as Mayberry, RFD, since Andy Griffith was born and raised there.  Although there is no real place called Mayberry, Mount Airy has definitely capitalized on the TV show’s popularity, turning the town into quite the tourist area for Andy Griffith fans.  Besides the Andy Griffith Museum, there are several businesses named after locations on the show – like Floyd’s Barber Shop.  Everything here is Mayberry this and Mayberry that.

Our lunch at Snappy Lunch was a pleasant surprise – look at those prices!  I had the Famous Pork Chop Sandwich and Steve had the BLT.  Both were good and well worth the money.

Snappy Lunch

Steve has always been interested in planes, trains and automobiles, and if you’ve been following us you know we try to hit those kinds of museums whenever we get a chance.  So when Steve heard about the NC Transportation Museum we decided to drive down to Spencer and check it out.

NC transportation Museum

The NC Transportation Museum is located on the site of what was once Southern Railway Company’s largest steam locomotive servicing facility, Spencer Shops.  The site was chosen in 1896 because of its midpoint location between the railroad’s major terminal points in Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA.  During its heyday, Spencer Shops employed 3,000 people, providing most of the jobs for the town of Spencer and its neighboring communities.

NC Transportation Museum
The brick Back Shop – once the largest industrial building in NC

The museum is largely devoted to the state’s railroad history; however, its collection also includes exhibits of automobiles and aircraft.  It is the largest repository of rail relics in North and South Carolina.

NC Transportation Museum
Relics of the past

The highlights of our visit here were the Back Shop and the Roundhouse.  The Back Shop is a massive building that served as the major overhaul facility for steam locomotives.  When we stepped inside we were blown away by the size of the huge structure.  Back in the day, two to three locomotives were repaired here each week.  It was literally too big to capture in a single photo!

A roundhouse serves as a garage where locomotives receive regular maintenance.  This 37-stall roundhouse is one of the few survivors of a distinctive type of locomotive repair facility that was once common in North America.

Bob Julian Roundhouse
Panoramic shot of the Bob Julian Roundhouse

The radial track and turntable arrangement was based on the operational and maintenance needs of steam locomotives.  This particular roundhouse is considered among the best preserved examples of a large modern roundhouse that continues to function as a railroad repair facility today.

Bob Julian Roundhouse
The radial track and turntable bringing a locomotive out for repair
NC Transportation Museum
The turntable

Back at our campground, there weren’t many birds around to entertain us.  Instead, the afternoon thunderstorms never failed to create excitement, pounding us with rain/wind/lightning, and more than a little apprehension.  Steve and I would sit by the windows, watching as it raged for a few minutes, then we could relax again when it was over.  The good news is they usually passed quickly and brought the stifling temperature down a bit.  Whew!  Ever since our scary experience at Gulf Shores, AL we still get a bit nervous when thunderstorms approach our site.  We definitely won’t miss this weather when we get back to the western states!

Pilot Mountain
Thunderstorm building right in front of us – you don’t want to be on that mountain in the afternoon!

But the best part was that our home base for the week was at Greystone RV Park, where all 10 sites face Pilot Mountain.  We had the whole park to ourselves for several days and loved it!

Greystone RV Park, Pinnacle, NC
Waking up each morning with a view of the Big Nipple…I mean Big Pinnacle

As the afternoon skies began to clear, I would grab my camera and take solitary walks around the park.  It was relaxing as I strolled along with the birds as my singing companions, discovering many new wildflowers.  Unwinding each afternoon like this after a long hike or sightseeing journey was the best nourishment for my body and soul.

Greystone RV Park, NC
Although the RV sites had no trees, the rest of the property was quite beautiful

Finally, have you ever tasted spring green onions?  There was a farmer’s market near our campground, and we decided to give these sweet onions a try.  They were great chopped up and mixed into our salads, and also excellent when we grilled them whole on the BBQ. Yum!

Spring green onion
Yummy spring green onions!

And that wraps up our week at Pilot Mountain, and our month-plus in North Carolina.  West Virginia, here we come!

Pilot Mountain, NC
Betsy leaving North Carolina for the last time









  1. What no ropes! I am sure you could have tackled Big Pinnacle with a few ropes and hooks!!:)

    What beautiful hikes! We weren’t into hiking when we stayed in Mt Airy. Someday maybe we will return. I like the park you and that amazing view you had. I can’t believe the park was empty in mid June.

  2. That turtle seems like a rather unique find on a hike!

    How neat to see the train turn table and how well it was preserved! Looks like a much more interesting train museum than the one we visited in Ely, NV!

    Looks like a fantastic place to stay and what a bonus to have it all to yourselves a good chunk of the time! Being able to do some walking right at the RV park is always at the top of my list choosing a place to stay.

  3. I think that’s a tortoise, much like the FL gopher tortoise. Thanks for all those really awesome hiking photos. Hope your time in WV is just as amazing.

  4. Of course you two wouldn’t take the easy way by driving to the top — we would miss out on all the fun of your hike! The rocky path of Ledge Spring trail looks especially beautiful. I didn’t realize that you’re getting daily afternoon thunderstorms — that most definitely does NOT sound like fun.

  5. What a lovely hike. Thanks for the history lesson. I have never heard of this mountain.

    You two are making me very nervous. You look way too close to the edge in the sixth photo. Stay back!

    Even though Paul does not like many museums, I think he would really like that Museum! So sad to read that at one time there were so many employed there and now zero.

  6. Fantastic pics from your hike, Mona. The stormy sky over the Nipinnacale, looks very foreboding. 😯 The lunch menu sounds so delicious and very reasonable too, and those fresh spring onions would have been in my shopping bag, for sure. 🙂

  7. Boy that was a busy week. You pack your days as full as we do and we don’t have to plan to be back in order to miss afternoon thunder storms. Boy that one looked dark and scary. Laughed out loud at your title. Nice looking hikes and great pictures from there.

  8. What a beautiful place to call home for a week…loved your hikes Mona Liza. Snappy Lunch has some snappy low prices…nice surprise!
    Safe travels to West Virginia…cant wait to see it thru you lens!

  9. Once again, your trip sounds delightful. I like that you took the hard way to the top. Look at all that beautiful scenery you would have missed if you drove up!

    The NC Transportation Museum looks very cool. I love the roundhouse and train tracks radiating out from it.

    Great photos and text, as usual.

  10. Having the park to yourselves, looking out over the Big Pinnacle, what could be better? Those hikes and the scenery look very inviting. Too bad the frequent storms and humidity come with being in this part of the country. Be safe out there. We are forever looking at the weather conditions while being out east and in the midwest. I will be glad to get away from the threat of tornados, strong winds and hail. Love your photos! 🙂

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