Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway

Mount Pisgah Inn to US 411
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Excerpted from Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway by Victoria Logue, Frank Logue and Nicole Blouin

Mount Pisgah Inn (408.6)
: For generations, Pisgah has been a popular mountain retreat for travelers. The modern facility includes a balcony and private porches offering an incredible mountain view of Pisgah National Forest . The dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The complex also houses a gift shop, campstore, and coin-operated laundromat. The Pisgah Inn and all its facilities usually open in April and operate through October.

Follow the Buck Spring Trail (1.1 miles, moderate) to the site of Buck Spring Lodge. The Western Carolina Botanical Club created a leaflet (available at the front desk) for this trail that matches numbered stations and furnishes details about plants such as mayflower, deerberry, minnie-bush, painted trillium, fetterbush, goldenrod, and aster. Because the trail travels through a portion of a northern hardwoods forest, a remarkable quantity and assortment of plant species exist.

Mount Pisgah Campground (408.8): This campground is the highest and coolest on the Parkway. The sites are the most secluded the Parkway has to offer.

The campground is located in Flat Laurel Gap. Because a granite rock base forms a bowl in this gap, there is little run-off and the area remains wet, creating the 85-acre Flat Laurel Gap Bog, which is a rare example of the southern Appalachian bog. At more than 3,000 years old, this is the oldest radiocarbon-dated heath community in the southern Appalachians. This fragile plant community is easily damaged by foot travel. Stay on roads and established trails around the campground. The black top leading through loop B and C encircles the bog on three sides.

Take Frying Pan Mountain Trail (1.1 miles, strenuous), which leaves the campground from behind the ranger's cabin, to discover a unique form of northern hardwoods forest called "orchards." Harsh weather in the high mountains twists, prunes, and retards growth of the red oaks and keeps shrubs at a minimum, creating an area that resembles a fruit orchard. At the summit (elevation 5,450 feet), a fire tower, which is still used by Pisgah National Forest, offers beautiful views over Mills River and Davidson River Valleys.

Pink Beds (410.3): The Pink Beds, a unique upland bog in Pisgah National Forest, extend 5 miles east from the Pisgah Ridge to Soapstone and Dividing Ridge. The "pink" is for the lush thicket of rhododendron, laurel, and phlox that blooms in the late spring and early summer.

Cradle of Forestry Overlook (411.0): The Cradle of Forestry was America's first school to teach scientific management of forests. In 1895, at a time of heavy logging and few trained foresters, Dr. Carl A. Schenck became the chief forester of the Biltmore Estate. In 1898, he founded the Biltmore Forest School at the base of Mount Pisgah in Vanderbilt's "forest." The first students, many of whom were sons of logging company owners, became the first forest service employees.

Today, the Cradle of Forestry consists of 6,500 acres designated as a National Historic Site. A U.S. Forest Service visitor center houses exhibits and a film that illustrate the beginning of scientific forestry, early forestry practices, and natural resource conservation. The Biltmore Campus and Forest Festival Trails, one-mile paved walkways with self-guided pamphlets, interpret the forestry student's training and a 1908 festival exhibiting the school's achievement. You can also visit a reconstruction of the Biltmore Forest School. To reach the Cradle of Forestry, leave the Parkway at milepost 411.8 and travel four miles south on US 276. An entrance fee is charged.

Wagon Road Gap—US 276 (411.8): It is 22 miles to Waynesville; 4 miles to the Cradle of Forestry; 18 miles to Brevard.

Cold Mountain (411.9): Cold Mountain is a 6,000-foot peak.

Pounding Mill Overlook (413.2): Enjoy an expansive mountain view that includes Looking Glass Rock. The elevation here is 4,700 feet.

Cherry Cove (415.7): In September, monarch butterflies from the eastern United States and Canada fly through this narrow gap as they journey toward Mexico. During this mass migration, thousands of butterflies pass by this overlook, although typically a visitor might see about 20 to 30 butterflies migrating through each hour on a good day. Because of their short life span, other types of butterflies can't attempt great distances, but monarchs are more like migratory birds, able to fly several thousand miles. Returning in the spring, the monarch lay eggs on milkweed, the only plant they will eat.

Bridges Camp Gap (416.8): Here, you can access the East Fork Trail, a forest service trail leading off the Parkway to the east fork of the Pigeon River.

Looking Glass Rock (417.0): This 3,969-foot mountain gets its name from the way the icy or wet rock glitters with reflections of sunlight. Weathering of a larger mountain composed of softer rock—quartz, mica, and shale—exposed this granite dome. Looking Glass offers some of the best climbing in the South on its 400-foot sheer face. The elevation here is 4,493 feet.

East Fork Overlook (418.3): This is the east fork of the Pigeon River. What you hear is Yellowstone Falls, which can be accessed from milepost 418.8.

Graveyard Fields Overlook (418.8): Graveyard Fields Loop Trail (2.3-mile loop, moderate) leads to a bridge over the Yellowstone Prong of the Pigeon's east fork and provides access to Second Falls and Yellowstone Falls (turn right after bridge) and Upper Falls (turn left after bridge).

The barren landscape along the prong favors a piece of the Rocky Mountains. In 1925, a fire destroyed 25,000 acres of spruce and fir trees in Pisgah National Forest and created an open pocket of land where the remaining stumps resemble gravestones. Almost completely bald until the late 1980s, the fields are now being reclaimed by first-generation trees, in addition to shrubs such as laurel, rhododendron, serviceberry, and honeysuckle.

John Rock Overlook (419.4): John was a horse that fell off a cliff here. You can't see the cliffs of John Rock, but John Rock Trail (0.1 mile, easy) leads to views of the Davidson River Valley. Notice the network of deer trails at this overlook.

Balsam Spring Gap—FS 816/Black Balsam Road (420.2): Travel one mile to reach the main access point for Shining Rock Wilderness Area, 18,500 acres of mountain terrain that are accessible only by trail. Shining Rock was one of the first national wilderness areas in East. The forest service released several pairs of eagles, which had been kept in captivity, in this wilderness area, and eagles have been spotted around Shining Rock.

Art Loeb Trail Crossing (421.2): Designated a National Recreational Trail in 1979, the Art Loeb Trail was named after Carolina Mountain Club member Arthur J. Loeb. It is the longest trail in the Pisgah District. Closest parking for access is at Fetterbush Overlook (milepost 421.7).

Fetterbush Overlook (421.7): The elevation and rock outcroppings in the vicinity meet the needs of the fetterbush, a member of the heath family that displays attractive white blossoms in early spring. The leaves look like that of the mountain laurel. The bush's name comes from its reputation for tangling and trapping hunting dogs. Parking and access for Art Loeb Trail.

Devil's Courthouse (422.4): Devil's Courthouse Trail (0.4 mile, strenuous) climbs through a spruce-fir forest to the 5,462-foot summit of Devil's Courthouse. The 360-degree view encompasses three states: South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. A metal, compasslike plaque pinpoints mountains on the horizon. This area has rare plants and is easily damaged. Please stay on the trail.

This is the southernmost spot on the Parkway to watch the annual hawk migration.

Mount Hardy (422.8) The United Daughters of the Confederacy put a plaque on this mountain in 1942 as a memorial to 125,000 North Carolina veterans of the Civil War, and they planted trees in memory of confederate soldier and physician Dr. James Hardy.

Beech Gap—NC 215 (423.2): Twenty-four miles to Canton; 18 miles to Rosman. Beech trees collect in this gap because they can withstand strong winds.

Herrin Knob (424.4): The dark green of the valley below signifies local Christmas tree farms.

Wolf Mountain Overlook (424.8): Wolf Mountain is in the distance just beyond Wolf Lake—once the last stronghold of the wolf in this area. After the buffalo and the elk were extirpated, around 1800 and 1850, respectively, the wolf, who lives primarily on large-hoofed mammals, turned to hogs and sheep for food. The last remaining wolves were shot by farmers' rifles by the early 1900s. Today, wolves have been reintroduced in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Rough Butt Bald (425.4): Butt is a term for the place where a mountain breaks off and creates a cliff. View a jagged rock outcropping just beyond the sign.

Bear Pen Gap Parking Area (427.6): This is the first of several overlooks commemorating the area's large population of black bears. The number of bears along this stretch has declined recently due to poachers.

Beartrail Ridge Parking Area (430.4): This overlook was named for bear trails that crisscross this area.

Cowee Mountain Overlook (430.7): Here, you will find the classic "ridge after ridge" scene overlooking the Cowee Mountain range.

Haywood Jackson Overlook (431.0): This overlook was named for the junction of Haywood and Jackson counties. Richland Balsam Self-Guiding Trail (1.5-mile loop, moderate) allows you to witness the balsam woolly adelgid's attack on the Fraser fir.

Richland Balsam Overlook (431.4) This is the highest point on the Parkway. The overlook elevation is 6,047 feet. Look across the motor road to view Richland Balsam Mountain, elevation 6,410 feet. To reach the summit, hike the Richland Balsam Trail from Haywood Jackson Overlook (milepost 431.0).

Roy Taylor Forest Overlook (433.3): A short walkway (100 feet) leads to a pedestrian overlook. An octagon-shaped deck offers a look at reforestation. Interpretive plaques tell the story of the Roy Taylor Forest, designated to call attention to a congressman's efforts to safeguard our natural resources.

Licklog Gap Overlook (435.7): Settlers drove their cattle to high ground in the summer. Here, in a gap, they "salted" them, placing salt for the animals in hollowed-out logs.

Grassy Ridge Mine Overlook (436.8): A mica mine existed below prior to the Civil War.

Steestachee Bald (438.9): Steestachee is the Cherokee word for "mouse."

Village of Saunook (440.0): View of Saunook, a small community outside Waynesville.

Rabb Knob Overlook (441.9): In 1776, Indians living along the Tuckaseigee River were pushed back into what is now Cherokee when Gen. Griffith Rutherford led an attack that destroyed their cabins.

Balsam Gap &151; US 74/23 (443.1): Eight miles to Waynesville; 12 miles to Sylva.

Mount Lynn Lowry (445.2): The 60-foot cross on the mountaintop honors Gen. Sumter Lowry's daughter, who died of leukemia in 1962. Six lights constantly burn in her memory. In the winter, view Woodfin Cascades across the valley.

Woodfin Cascades Overlook (446.7): You can hear the waterfalls, but Woodfin Cascades must be viewed from milepost 445.2 during the winter.

Yellow Face (450.2): A Black Rock Lumber Company logging camp, once situated nearby, floated logs off the mountain to Sylva using a flume and diverted creek water. In the winter, when the moss on the mountain died, the rock face appeared yellow.

Waterrock Knob Overlook (451.2): The Plott Balsam Range and the Great Balsam Range meet at Waterrock Knob, the second highest point on the Parkway. Display boards point out prominent peaks on the horizon, adding distances and explanation of names. Because the parking area offers views to the southwest and the northeast, this spot is ideal for watching the sunrise and sunset. Waterrock Knob Trail (0.6 miles, strenuous) ends at the summit of Waterrock Knob. With an elevation of 6,400 feet, this trail goes higher than any other trail along the Parkway. From May through October, a van based at this overlook acts as a mobile visitor information and interpretive sales center with maps, books, and other items. A comfort station is also located at this overlook.

On your way up the spur road to the large parking area, stop at the overlook named View Browning Knob and read the plaque in honor of engineer R. Getty Browning. He played a big part in the present-day location of the Parkway through North Carolina.

Woolyback Overlook (452.3): "Woolyback" refers to the thicket created by the mountain laurel and rhododendron that's so dense you can almost walk on it.

Hornbuckle Valley (453.4): This valley was the stage for a 1864 Civil War battle in which the Cherokee wore confederate gray and kept the Union from taking their land.

Soco Gap &151; US 19 (455.7): It is 0.4 miles to Maggie Valley; 12 miles to Cherokee. Soco Creek and Gap are from the mispronunciation of the Cherokee word Sa-gwa-hi or "one place." For the Cherokees this gap was ahaluna or "place of ambush," named for a Cherokee ambush that killed all but one of a large invading party of Shawnees. The survivor's ear was cut off and he was sent back to his tribe as a warning. This gap was the initial point of the 1876 U.S. Survey for the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Plott Balsam (457.9): The Plott Balsam Mountains, the southernmost range that the Parkway crosses, was home to the prized Plott hounds. In the early 1800s, Amos Plott and his family developed a dog vicious enough to hunt bear. These Plott hounds were descended from hunting dogs that Amos's grandfather, Johannes Plott, brought with him to America from his native Germany. Waterrock Knob is alternately known as Amos Plott Balsam. One tale told of Amos Plott recounted the time his hunting dogs cornered a bear in a hole. Amos took after the bear with a knife. The struggle ended with the bear dead and Amos badly bleeding. He recovered from his wounds, but was never known to use a knife to go after a bear again.

Wolf Laurel Gap—Heintooga Spur Road (458.2): A nine-mile spur road accessing the southeastern corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

0.9 miles - Mollie Gap and Indian Road accesses Soco Bald.

1.3 miles - Mile High Overlook provides information on Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1.4 miles - Maggie Valley Overlook offers a view of the lights in Maggie Valley during the winter.

3.6 miles - Black Camp Gap has a paved walk to a historic Masonic marker. The gap was named for people who were often covered in ash because they lived here in a cabin whose walls were charred by a forest fire.

4.8 miles - View Flat Creek Falls in the winter.

6.0 miles - Paul's Gap accesses several trails leading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

8.4 miles - Balsam Mountain Campground.

8.9 miles - Heintooga Ridge Picnic Area.

9.0 miles - The pavement ends here at the gated, gravel Round Bottom Road.

Lickstone Ridge Overlook (458.9): Below, the Cherokee Reservation (Qualla Boundary) exists today because a band of Cherokees took refuge in the Smokies when the U.S. Army forcibly exiled their tribe to Oklahoma in 1838.

Big Witch Overlook (461.9): This overlook offers a good view of the Smoky Mountains.

Ballhoot Scar (467.4): Ballhoot, a logging term, refers to the method of skidding logs off the mountain at steep places on the hillside, which leaves a slick scar behind.

Raven Fork (467.9): The fields below, Floyd Bottoms, are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Oconaluftee River (468.4): Oconaluftee, a Cherokee word, means "beside the river."

Oconaluftee River Bridge (469.0)

US 411 (469.1): The southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is 29 miles (traveling through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) to Gatlinburg; the trip to Cherokee is 2 miles.


© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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