Pisgah National Forest
Art Loeb Trail, Section 1
Distance: 12.3 miles
USGS Maps: Shining Rock, Sam Knob
Access: Turn onto the road to Davidson River Campground, 0.2 mile south of Pisgah District Ranger Station on U.S. Highway 276. Park in the Art Loeb Trailhead parking lot. The other end of this section is at Gloucester Gap on FS Rd. 471, where overnight parking is not recommended.
Attractions and Considerations: The Art Loeb Trail, 30.1 miles long, is a national recreation trail and named after a local hiking enthusiast. The trail traverses beautiful, but rugged terrain from some of the lowest, to some of the highest points on the Pisgah District. Most of the Art Loeb Trail is overlapped by the Mountains-to-the Sea Trail, which is blazed with three-inch white dots. Section 1 begins at the Davidson River and climbs steeply to Shut-in Ridge. Once up, don't expect that the hard part is over. This trail will take you up and down knobs, along ridges, and down into several gaps. Points of interest include ridgetop views, Cedar Rock Mountain, and Butter Gap Shelter, where there is a spring.
Art Loeb Trail, Section 2
Distance: 7.2 miles
USGS Maps: Shining Rock, Sam Knob
Access: Start from Gloucester Gap, which is 4.5 miles west of the State Fish Hatchery on FS Road 475. (It is not recommended to leave cars overnight here.) See Access to trail #21 for directions to the other end of this section.
Attractions and Considerations: From Gloucester Gap the trail climbs to Pilot Mountain, a former fire tower site with a 360-degree view. In mid-May the north side of Pilot Mountain is abloom with pinkshell azalea. There is a shelter and spring at Deep Gap. The trail then climbs to the Blue Ridge Parkway, winding through a mature upland hardwood forest. From the Parkway it is a steep climb to Silvermine Bald where there is a transition from a hardwood forest to a spruce-fir forest. Grass balds and an abundance of catawba rhododendron make this a good spot to hike in late June when these showy shrubs bloom. Near Silvermine Bald the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail splits to the west while the Art Loeb Trail follows the ridge northeast to FS Road 816.
Art Loeb Trail, Section 3
Distance: 6.8 miles
USGS Maps: Shining Rock, Sam Knob, Cruso
Access: From U.S. Highway 276, travel 8 miles south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn onto FS Road 816. Go 1 mile to the crest of the hill, where the trail crosses.
Attractions and Considerations: The first half of this portion of the Art Loeb Trail is perhaps the most spectacular. Black Balsam and Tennant Mountains both exceed 6,000 feet in elevation. Grass balds provide outstanding views during clear weather, but at this high elevation you can expect cold, rainy weather year-round. A beautiful five-mile loop may be made by combining the Art Loeb Trail with the Ivestor Gap Road. At Ivestor Gap the Art Loeb crosses in Shining Rock Wilderness. Be prepared to practice map-reading skills because there are no blazes or signs in the Wilderness. Wood fires are not permitted in Shining Rock and a group limit of 10 is enforced. Wilderness is managed for solitude and a primitive landscape; please help foster this by being quiet, choosing rest stops out of view, and using existing campsites. This section of the Art Loeb Trail ends at Deep Gap.
Black Mountain Trail
Distance: 9.8 miles
Maps: Pisgah Forest, Shining Rock
Access: Black Mountain Trail begins at the end of the parking lot next to the Pisgah District Work Center on U.S. Highway 276. The work center is 0.1 mile south of the ranger station.
Attractions and Considerations: This is a rugged trail, but is well worth the effort. Most of the trail is overlapped by the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which is marked by a white dot. Numerous trails intersect Black Mountain; check your map for loop opportunities. The first mile of this trail is fairly easy, but after leaving Thrift Cove, it climbs up and over Little Hickory Knob, an 800-foot elevation gain in less than a mile. From here, the trail becomes more moderate as you drop down to Pressley Gap then up the shoulder of Black Mountain. The view from the top of Clawhammer Mountain is a treat. Shortly after crossing the gravel road at Buckhorn Gap, you will come to Buckhorn Gap shelter, where there is a spring. From here, the trail climbs Soapstone Ridge, which offers nice views in the winter. The trail ends at Club Gap.
Buck Springs Trail
Distance: 6.2 miles
Maps: Shining Rock, Cruso
Access: Drive to the Pisgah Inn, Blue Ridge Parkway. Park in the Inn parking lot. The trail begins behind the dining room and goes southwest. Another access is from U.S. Highway 276, about 3 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway (or 9 miles north of the ranger station).
Attractions and Considerations: Most hike this trail from the Pisgah Inn down to Highway 276, which requires a car switch. With the exception of the first half mile, which is moderately steep, the trail is a gradual, sloping grade. The trail has 13 easy stream crossings while winding around 10 ridges. Many of these stream crossings have pretty cascades that are worth admiring. In the spring and early summer this trail is alive with the sound of songbirds, which include a variety of warblers and vireos. Wildflowers are also abundant from April through October. This trail is truly a nature lover's dream. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail overlaps Buck Springs for most of its length, but if hiking down from the Pisgah Inn, it will leave Buck Springs approximately one mile before reaching Hwy. 276 and drop steeply to the south. The Buck Springs Trail continues on an easy sideslope to the west.
Distance: 57.6 miles
Blaze: White Dot
Access: There are several access points to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on the Pisgah District. The most used are the Art Loeb Trailhead, Black Mountain Trail, Shut-in Trail, or from NC Highway 215.
Attractions and Considerations: The Mountains-to-Sea Trail will eventually extend from one of the highest points in the North Carolina mountains, Clingman's Dome, to the lowest elevations on the Outer Banks at Nag's Head. It will cover almost 700 miles when it is completed. Plans call for completion by the year 2020. This will be a travelway with various sections open to hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and canoeing. The trail is completed through the Pisgah District and covers 57.6 miles. This is a strenuous trail, and after all of the ups and downs you will have climbed over 20,000 feet in elevation! The trail enters the Pisgah District at Haywood Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway and leaves at the French Broad River. You will pass through just about every ecosystem found in the southern Appalachian Mountains from high-elevation grass balds to cove hardwoods forests, and from mountain ridges to thickets of rhododendron. Though mainly a foot trail, some sections are open to mountain bikes. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail overlaps other district trails, listed below. It is identified by three-inch, white painted dots, with the exception of the Middle Prong Wilderness where routed wooden signs point the way. When overlapping other trails, you will also see the rectangular paint blaze used to identify them.
Trail Section Distances:
Middle Prong - 4.5 miles
Silvermine Bald - 2.0 miles
Art Loeb - 18.5 miles
Sycamore Cove - 1.0 mile
Black Mountain - 7.1 miles
Pink Beds - 3.1 miles
Buck Springs - 5.1 miles
Shut-in - 16.3 mile
Distance: 16.3 miles
Maps: Dunsmore Mountain, Skyland, Asheville
Access: One end of the trail begins near the French Broad River where the Blue Ridge Parkway exit ramp intersects NC Highway 191. There is a small, gravel parking area here. The other end is at the Buck Springs Overlook near the Pisgah Inn. There are many access points along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Wooden posts with a white hiker symbol mark these crossings.
Attractions and Considerations: Shut-in Trail was probably named for the rhododendron thickets which makes the hiker feel "shut in." George Vanderbilt constructed this trail in the 1890s to reach his Buck Springs Hunting Lodge from the Biltmore House. Later, this route was converted to a hiking trail. It is now a part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. In 16.3 miles, the trail climbs from an elevation of 2,025 feet to 5,000 feet. In places the ascent can be quite challenging. Except where the trail crosses the Parkway, it offers a quiet walk through beautiful hardwood forests with many nice views of the valleys below. Despite its proximity to the Parkway, this trail does not receive much use.
South Mills River Trail
Distance: 12 miles
Maps: Pisgah Forest
Access: You may begin from either the Turkey Pen Gap Trailhead at the end of FS Road 297, off of Highway 280 near the Transylvania/ Henderson County line, or from the end of FS Road 476 in the Pink Beds area. (Horse trailers should not go beyond the loop campsite on the right on FS Road 476 because there is no turn around at the end.)
Attractions and Considerations: Though this trail is on a relatively easy grade, there are nine bridgeless river crossings, thus the "Most Difficult" rating. From the end of FS Road 476, hike 4 miles to Wolf Ford, where there is a nice campsite. There is a suspension bridge for hikers, but from here to Cantrell Creek there are no bridges. You will notice signs of the old railroad for the length of the trail. Look for old trestles at stream and river crossings. Due to the trail location at the bottom of a steep valley, it remains cold in the winter, but is very refreshing in the summer. Between Cantrell Creek and the Turkey Pen Gap Trailhead there are suspension bridges for hikers to cross. There are numerous intersections with other trails for loop opportunities.
Turkey Pen Gap Trail
Distance: 5.5 miles
Maps: Pisgah Forest
Access: From the ranger station take Highway 276 south to Highway 280. Travel east on 280 about four miles to the Transylvania/Henderson County line and turn left onto FS Road 297. Follow FS Road 297 to the end. Trail begins from the parking lot. (This trailhead has limited parking.)
Attractions and Considerations: This is one of the most challenging trails on the Pisgah District, but is also one of the most pristine. The trail begins at Turkey Pen Gap and climbs steeply up to the top of Sharpy Mountain. If you survive this climb, you will most likely finish in good shape. Be prepared to cover a series of steep ascents and descents along the entire length of the trail. The trail follows the top of a ridge and affords scenic views into the South Mills River valley. An intersection with Wagon Road Gap Trail provides a loop hike when combined with South Mills River Trail. This trail ends at the Black Mountain Trail. Plan to carry any water you will need, because most of the trail is on a dry ridge.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication