Pisgah National Forest Day Hiking Overview

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Day Hiking Highlights: Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

  • This national forest, located in western North Carolina, has some of the highest terrain in the East within its 500,000 acres. Three wildernesses, 40 recreation areas, and hundreds of miles of trails make for more than ample day hiking, camping, and other outdoor opportunities.
  • Linville Gorge is a beautiful destination. Make the hike to Linville Falls, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, or travel the base of the gorge along the Linville River. It's just a short hike to Wisemans View from Kistler Memorial Highway.
  • Shining Rock Wilderness, located off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a high-elevation area with rock outcrops and meadows that offer superlative views, along with hikes to waterfalls.
  • Middle Prong Wilderness offers solitude amid deep woods and remote streams. You can access it via the Blue Ridge Parkway or from Forest Road 97 near Sunburst Campground.
  • A network of trails weaves out from Lake Powhatan Campground near Asheville. The Deerfield Loop explores multiple ecosystems surrounding Lake Powhatan. The Pine Tree Trail has interpretive information. The Homestead Loop is a short trail that passes over Lake Powhatan Dam.
  • Looking Glass Rock is a massive dome with a stone face offering incredible views. The 6.2-mile round-trip hike works up a narrow ridge before reaching the 3,692-foot outcrop.

Art Loeb Trail, Section 4
Distance: 3.8 miles
Blaze: None
Difficulty: Difficult
USGS Maps: Cruso, Waynesville
Access: Access is from the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp, off of U.S. Highway 215 four miles south of Bethel, NC. Please notify camp staff if you will be leaving a vehicle at the camp.
Attractions and Considerations: This is a short, but very steep section of the Art Loeb Trail. Because it is in designated wilderness, you will find no signs or trail blazes. Wood fires are not permitted in Shining Rock Wilderness and a group size limit of ten is enforced. These measures serve to enhance solitude and protect the primitive character that wilderness is set aside for. Please do your part to enhance others' wilderness experience: Stay as quiet as possible, take rest breaks out of sight of the trail and use existing campsites, also out of sight of the trail. It is our challenge to you to minimize your impact on the land. When you leave, will others know that you have passed this way?

Art Loeb Spur
Distance: 0.6 miles
Blaze: None
Difficulty: Difficult
USGS Maps: Shining Rock
Access: From U.S. Highway 276, travel 8 miles south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn onto FS Road 816. Drive 1.5 miles to the end of the paved road. The trail starts at the gate to Ivestor Gap Road.
Attractions and Considerations: This is a short but steep trail that climbs 160 feet in elevation in the course of 0.6 mile. On a clear day, the climb is certainly worth the effort with views of up to 70 miles distant. The cold, clear weather usually associated with autumn and winter enhances the view; though other times of year are just as good for other reasons. High elevations are good places to escape the heat of July and the blooms of catawba rhododendron, and flame azalea are an attraction in mid to late June. When hiking this trail, keep in mind that you are climbing a fragile, grassy bald. Take extra care to stay on the trail and avoid shortcuts that go straight uphill. Keep an eye open for switchbacks, which are constructed to minimize erosion.

Big Creek Trail
Distance: 4.9 miles
Blaze: Yellow
Difficulty: Difficult
Maps: Dunsmore Mountain
Access: From North Mills River Campground, take FS Road 5000 north approximately 1.5 miles. Turn left across a low, concrete bridge and park at the end of the road. Follow the Hendersonville Reservoir Road to Spencer Branch Trail. Big Creek Trail intersects after 100 yards. The upper end of the trail comes out at the Little Pisgah Ridge Tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway, however, there is no parking here.
Attractions and Considerations: The Big Creek Trail is not only pretty, but it offers many reminders of the rich history of the area. Over half of the trail is on an old railroad grade that follows Big Creek. Railroad ties and remains of railroad camps can be seen along the course of the trail. Some of the creek crossings don't have bridges, so be prepared to get your feet wet. After leaving Big Creek, the trail climbs up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a strenuous climb of 2,000 feet in elevation over the course of two miles. Near the end of the trail you will cross onto the Blue Ridge Parkway lands where bikes may not be ridden. The trail ends at a service road and a rock dump, which you will have to pick your way through before reaching the Parkway.

Buckhorn Gap Trail
Distance: 4.6 miles
Blaze: Orange
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Pisgah Forest, Shining Rock
Access: You may access Buckhorn Gap Trail from either Avery Creek Trail (one mile from the lower trailhead) or South Mills River Trail 2.5 miles from the gaging station.
Attractions and Considerations: This begins as a fairly steep trail as it climbs from Avery Creek to Buckhorn Gap. Several stream crossings have log bridges. A beautiful side trip to Twin Falls is worth the extra short walk. Horse riders and mountain bikers should access Twin Falls from the upper end of the loop. This trail is for hiking only, so you must tie your horses or walk your bike. Between Twin Falls Trail and Buckhorn Gap, watch the trail signs carefully because there are three sections that have alternate routes for bikes and horses, to protect fragile areas and log steps. After passing Buckhorn Gap, the trail follows the logging road for 0.5 mile before dropping down gradually to the South Mills River.

Caney Bottom Loop Trail
Distance: 4.6 miles
Blaze: Blue
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Shining Rock
Access: Park across from the gate to Cove Creek Group Campground. Cove Creek is three miles past the State fish hatchery on FS Road 475. Directions to the fish hatchery from the ranger station appear in the section on Butler Gap Trail. Take the road behind the gate to the group camp. The trail begins just before entering the Lower Cove Creek campsite. NOTE: Cove Creek is a fee area. The facilities are only for the groups who have rented the area. Please respect the privacy of the campers by staying on the trail which passes around both campsites.
Attractions and Considerations: Caney Bottom Loop has a moderate grade with good views of streams, cascades, and waterfalls. Though all streams have log foot bridges, there are several wet areas along the trail, so wear appropriate foot gear. While most people enjoy this trail because of the beautiful streams, other attractions include large wildlife fields and a nice view of Looking Glass Rock. Only the west side of the trail is open to mountain bikes, so watch signs carefully. If mountain biking, you may take the Caney Bottom Connector, which joins this trail with FS Road 225.

Daniel Ridge Trail
Distance: 4 miles
Blaze: Red
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Shining Rock
Access: Take Highway 276 north past the Pisgah Ranger Station to the intersection with USFS 475. Turn left and drive toward the State Fish Hatchery/Education Center (which will be on your left) and bear left at the intersection with USFS 475B, though staying on USFS 475. With the entrance to Cove Creek Camp to your right, continue to the parking area to the right, from where you can access the Daniel Ridge Loop Trail.
Attractions and Considerations: Beginning at the gate you will stay on the gravel road for 100 yards and cross a concrete bridge. This marks the start of the loop. Turn left across a berm and the trail parallels the Davidson River for 0.5 mile. Just before reaching an old wooden bridge, the trail turns sharply to the right and up Lanning Branch. You will climb moderately for almost one mile before intersecting the Farlow Gap Trail, which goes left. Turn right and the trail passes through a young forest and past a regeneration area that affords a beautiful view of Pilot Mountain. From here the trail enters a series of wildlife fields. Keep a sharp lookout for trail blazes, because there are many turns in this section. You will eventually drop down to the gravel road. Turn right onto the road and hike 0.5 mile back to the gate. A left turn onto the gravel road will lead you to the base of a 90-foot falls.

Explorer Loop Trail
Distance: 3 miles
Blaze: Yellow
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Dunsmore Mountain
Access: is from FS Road 479H. To reach 479H, follow the signs from NC 191 to Lake Powhatan Recreation Area. Just before the campground, FS Road 479 is on the right. Follow 479 to the second gated road on the left, which is 479H.
Attractions and Considerations: This loop trail is fairly easy, though it has one steep climb. Begin behind the gate to 479H and follow this grass road for about 0.5 mile before turning left into the woods. Be sure to follow the blazes, because there are unmaintained trails that intersect this road. You will cross a small stream, then begin a short, but steep, climb. After 0.25 mile the trail turns sharply to the left then follows an easy grade through a nice hardwood forest. The trail crosses Beaten Branch then drops to Bent Creek. The trail again makes a sharp left turn as you parallel Bent Creek, and at times the trail is high above the creek. The remainder of the trail is fairly flat and wide and you will return to the gate where you began. Note: This trail is open seasonally to mountain bikes from October 15 to April 15.

Farlow Gap Trail
Distance: 3.1 miles
Blaze: Blue
Difficulty: Difficult
Maps: Shining Rock
Access: is either from the Art Loeb Trail at Farlow Gap or from the Daniel Ridge Trail. See access to Daniel Ridge Trail to find start of Farlow Gap Trail.
Attractions and Considerations: From Daniel Ridge Trail, the Farlow Gap Trail goes left, or west. This trail starts with a moderate climb as it contours around Fork River Ridge and Daniel Ridge. From here to Farlow Gap, the trail becomes steep, with several switchbacks. Though it may be tempting at times, please do not leave the main trail because short-cutting switchbacks causes erosion. The Farlow Gap Trail, though strenuous at times, has great variety in scenery and vegetation. You will cross several streams and three separate ridges, so you will move from a forest of cove hardwoods such as yellow poplar and red oak to a upland hardwood forest of oak, black gum and red maple. Waterfalls, cascades and an old mica mine are points of interest. You will also see old log bridges and a railroad trestle that remind us of the rich history of this area.

Graveyard Fields Trail
Distance: 3.2 Miles
Blaze: Blue
Difficulty: Easy
Maps: Shining Rock
Access: This trail begins at the Graveyard Fields Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the U.S. Highway 276 junction with the parkway, turn left, or south on the Parkway and continue to milepost 418.8 (about 6 miles).
Attractions and Considerations: This is a popular family hike because of its beauty and ease. A map at the parking area shows the Graveyard Fields trail system. The set of steps to the right of the map is the start of the trail. After crossing the bridge, the main trail goes left and upstream. A 0.25-mile trail to the right will take you to the bottom of the Lower Falls, which is a moderate descent. Rocks around waterfalls are very slippery. NEVER go to the top of any waterfalls. The main trail will take you through open, grassy areas, and past nice pools for wading on a hot summer day. Blueberries are abundant in the fall. After one mile, you will see the trail to the Upper Falls. This is a moderate climb of almost a mile to the base of an impressive waterfall. The main trail crosses the Yellow stone Prong and returns to the parking lot.

Graveyard Ridge Trail
Distance: 3.4 miles
Blaze: Orange
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Shining Rock
Access: Walk the Graveyard Fields Trail counterclockwise until intersecting the Graveyard Ridge Trail.
Attractions and Considerations: The first two miles of this trail are for hikers only because of the fragile soils. After leaving the Graveyard Fields Trail, you will climb through a grass bald up to an old railroad grade. These soils are very susceptible to erosion, so please stay on the main trail. Turn left onto the old railroad grade. There are outstanding views of Graveyard Fields and visibility as far as South Carolina on clear days. At Dark Prong Gap the trail will become a road bed which is open to horses and mountain bikes. It is also open seasonally to four-wheel drives from August through January 2. See nature at its scenic best as you look across Dark Prong and Greasy Cove toward Mt. Pisgah. This trail ends at Ivestor Gap. Be aware of changing weather conditions. If visibility is hampered due to fog, it is recommended to avoid this trail, since it is easy to become disoriented in these open areas.

Ivestor Gap Trail
Distance: 3.7 miles
Blaze: None
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Sam Knob, Shining Rock
Access: The trail begins at the Black Balsam Trailhead off of FS Road 816. This road leaves the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420.
Attractions and Considerations: Ivestor Gap Trail is one of many that leave from the Black Balsam Trailhead. Check the bulletin board for other high-elevation trails. Ivestor Gap Trail begins as a roadbed, which is open to four-wheel-drive vehicles from mid-August until January second. The trail surface is rocky and rough for the first two miles. However you'll be rewarded with some outstanding views in clear weather. From Ivestor Gap, you may return to the parking area via the Art Loeb Trail for a beautiful, five-mile loop. Enjoy the spectacular views from grass balds. From Ivestor Gap, the trail enters Shining Rock Wilderness and ends at Shining Rock Gap. Mountain bikes are not allowed in wilderness, and trails are maintained to the most primitive standards. Fires are prohibited. Group size of ten is enforced in Shining Rock Wilderness to preserve solitude and prevent resource damage.

Looking Glass Rock Trail
Distance: 3.1 miles
Blaze: Yellow
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Shining Rock
Access: From the Pisgah Ranger Station, go three miles north on U.S. Highway 276 and turn left onto FS Road 475, the road to the State fish hatchery. The trailhead is on the right after about 0.5 mile. Parking is available for 15 vehicles in a paved lot.
Attractions and Considerations: This popular trail receives heavy use throughout the summer and the autumn color season. It requires a constant climb all of the way up, so make sure you are in good physical condition before tackling this trail. Numerous switchbacks may tempt you to take shortcuts, but this causes a great amount of damage and erosion, so please stay on the trail. As you climb you will notice changing forest types as the soils become drier and less fertile. Table mountain pine seems to grow out of solid rock in some places. After two miles a spur trail to the left affords a beautiful view, and is a good destination for those people who decide not to go all the way to the top. The last mile is steep, and the view seems to come from nowhere as the trail tops out and you gaze across a wide valley to high balds and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the distance.

Mount Pisgah Trail
Distance: 1.5 miles
Blaze: None
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Dunsmore Mountain, Cruso
Access: Drive 0.75 mile north of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Mount Pisgah parking area. The trail begins at the far end of the parking area.
Attractions and Considerations: This trail takes you to the top of Mount Pisgah, from which many landmarks in this area receive their name. History tells us that a minister climbed this mountain and looked down upon the fertile French Broad River Valley and saw it as a "promised land." Mount Pisgah is the point from which Moses looked into the Israelites' Promised Land, hence the name. On clear days, this trail is very popular because it offers a 360-degree view from the top. Though a short trail, it is fairly strenuous. There are some switchbacks and rock steps, which make the climb more manageable, along with benches that are placed at good locations for you to catch your breath. There is a viewing platform at the top, which was built by the Youth Conservation Corp in 1979. Aside from the WLOS TV tower, the view is unobstructed. On clear days you can see the French Broad River Valley, Asheville, Waynesville, and most points on the Pisgah District.

North Slope Trail
Distance: 4.5 miles
Blaze: Orange
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Pisgah Forest
Access: Turn onto the road to Davidson River campground, 0.25 miles south of the Pisgah Ranger Station on U.S. Highway 276. Park in the Art Loeb Trailhead parking lot. Cross the Davidson River bridge and follow the Exercise Trail, which overlaps the North Slope as far as the English Chapel. Mountain bikes must access the trail from the Riverside Loop in the campground, where it leaves from beside a restroom.
Attractions and Considerations: The trail parallels the Davidson River for over a mile and receives much use from children and families. About 0.25 mile after leaving the campground area, the trail turns to the left and climbs steadily uphill to the crest of North Slope Ridge. In early June travelers will see a beautiful display of mountain laurel along this section. Here the trail again turns left, but if you continue straight ahead on the North Slope Connector, blazed yellow, you will climb steeply to the Art Loeb Trail. From this point the North Slope Trail descends gradually on an old road before ending at the campground amphitheater parking lot. Turn right onto the campground road and go 0.25 mile back to the Art Loeb Trailhead. This trail is open seasonally to mountain bikes from October 15 through April 15.

Pilot Cove/Slate Rock Trail
Distance: 4.3 miles
Blaze: Blue
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Dunsmore Mountain
Access: Follow U.S. Highway 276 north from the Pisgah Ranger Station for 11.5 miles, then turn right onto FS Road 1206. Go about 7.5 miles to the concrete bridge that crosses Slate Rock Creek. The trail begins on the left next to the creek.
Attractions and Considerations: This trail begins by following Slate Rock Creek. This is an easy to moderate grade with several stream crossings. Slate Rock Creek is typical of mountain streams with small cascades and an abundance of mosses and ferns. In the summer, wildflowers are prolific. The trail leaves Slate Rock Creek after almost three miles and climbs up Slate Rock Ridge. Here, at the gap, the Pilot Cove Loop intersects to the left. Continue straight ahead and the trail will descend to Pilot Cove. You will pass through some open, grassy fields before crossing the creek. You will cross the creek again, then pass the other end of Pilot Cove Loop. Shortly thereafter you will return to FS Road 1206. A left turn onto the road will bring you back to the start, after 1.5 miles. Many hikers opt for a car switch.

Pilot Rock Trail
Distance: 3.6 miles
Blaze: Orange
Difficulty: Difficult
Maps: Dunsmore Mountain
Access: Begin from the Pisgah Inn parking lot, milepost 410 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Look for the wooden trail map between the dorms and the Inn. Walk north on the trail toward the Buck Springs Lodge site. Pilot Rock Trail will intersect after 0.4 mile. The other end of the trail is on FS Road. 1206, 4.5 miles from U.S. Highway. 276. A car switch is necessary.
Attractions and Considerations: After leaving the parkway trail, the Pilot Rock Trail climbs up Little Bald Mountain, which is a grass savanna. In the summer you are likely to hear the drumming of ruffed grouse. The trail then descends moderately down a dry ridge until reaching the top of Pilot Rock. From here, you will have a breathtaking, 180-degree view of the surrounding mountains. Some of the most prominent features are the Pink Beds Valley, Cedar Rock, and Funneltop Mountain. After leaving the crest of Pilot Rock, you will come to the steepest section of trail. You will descend 600 feet in less than a mile on a series of switchbacks. The trail terminates on FS Road 1206 at Grassy Lot Gap.

Vineyard Gap Trail
Distance: 3.3 miles
Blaze: Yellow
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Pisgah Forest
Access: Begin from Turkey Pen Gap Trailhead at the end of FS Road 297. To reach this trailhead, take Highway 280 to the Transylvania/Henderson County line and turn northwest onto FS Road 297. It is a five-minute drive to the end.
Attractions and Considerations: Begin from the trailhead at a set of steps. The trail climbs moderately to the ridgetop of Forge Mountain. In the fall and winter, you'll enjoy some nice views. Be sure to follow the paint blazes, because some unmaintained sidetrails intersect. From Forge Mountain the trail makes a sharp turn and drops steeply to the South Mills River, which must be forded. A short side trip downstream will bring you to an old homesite, which still has the remains of the foundation. From the South Mills River crossing the trail is easy, though you must ford Bradley Creek three times. The last section of trail is also open to horses. The trail ends at Bradley Creek Trail, the site of an old iron forge. Some nice campsites are along both South Mills River and Bradley Creek.


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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