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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Pilot Mountain

by Ken Otterbourg, 2006Pilot Mountain. Photograph courtesy of North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development.

Pilot Mountain, located in southeastern Surry County, is one of North Carolina's most recognizable geologic features. Rising more than 1,400 feet above the surrounding landscape, it consists of Big Pinnacle, a white quartzite monadnock with sheer rock walls and a rounded, vegetation-covered top, and Little Pinnacle, a lower section that is comprised of metamorphic rock not usually found in the region. Geologists believe that the 200-foot-high Big Pinnacle was formed by the compression of sand from a beach that existed in western North Carolina approximately 1 billion years ago. The sand was first compressed into sandstone and later became quartzite through heat and pressure. The metamorphic rock of the mountain's base is believed to have developed from a deep marine environment.

The mountain's unmistakable shape, visible from great distances, has been a guidepost for travelers for centuries. The Saponi and Tutelo Indians who lived in the area called the peak Jomeokee, the "great guide" or "pilot." The Great Wagon Road, which brought settlers into the Piedmont from the Northeast, skirted the base of Pilot Mountain. Catching a glimpse of the solitary mountain was a boost to the spirit of the people who were embarking on new lives in the Carolinas. An entry in the diaries of Moravian settlers in 1753, 37 days into their journey from Pennsylvania, suggests the joy that settlers found in spotting the peak: we "saw the Pilot Mountain, and rejoiced to think that we would soon see the boundary of Carolina, and set foot in our own dear land." In 1968, primarily through the efforts of local citizens, Pilot Mountain became North Carolina's fourteenth state park.


Adelaide L. Fries, Stuart Thurman Wright, and J. Edwin Hendricks, Forsyth: The History of a County on the March (1976).

J. Wright Horton Jr. and Victor A. Zullo, eds., The Geology of the Carolinas: Carolina Geological Society Fiftieth Anniversary Volume (1991).


Origin - location: 



I have been told there was an amusement park on top of Pilot Mtn at one point, with a ferris wheel. Do any photos of that exist? Thanks!



You might be able to find information in the magazine Our State at 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


I want to see a picture of the old ladder leading up to the knob at Pilot Mountain. The first time I went to Pilot Mountain, that was the only way to get to the top. It must have been in the early 70's,


This is my favorite photo of the mountain.

whenever I see it it seems the best. What memories of that place with my father. Now I live in Spain as a legal advisor to immigrants and I miss all that


I found another photo of what looks like the same cannon.

When you flip the image the details look exactly the same.


I seen a place on some of the rocks that looked like ripples on sand


I have seen a picture of Pilot Mtn. taken at civil war times that showed two knobs. Was this correct? It has been added to the web site that shows 200-300 pictures of Pilot Mtn. and surrounding areas.


Hi Nathan,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share this find and your question.

Is this the image you found?  I discovered this on Pinterest although the image does not have information about its source.  (Pinterest link:

Pilot Mountain does have two pinnacles, Big Pinnacle and Little Pinnacle. It is possible that the Little Pinnacle was more visible in the mid-19th century than it is today. But it remains unclear if this is a legitimate image. A few viewers have speculated that the image is a hoax and may have been "photo-shopped" as we don't have any information about its origins or why a cannon is located in the foreground, given that no Civil War battles were fought at the mountain (although Stoneman's troops did march through the general area on their way north to Virginia).

I will try to investigate the source of the image and include it with this article if we can find a citation.

Thanks again for sharing this and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


More research was going to be done in 2016.
Was this ever verified.


Thank you for checking back with us. We did try to find more information but could not find more information. If you have information you want to share, we would love to see it!


Kelly Eubank

Government and Heritage Library

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