Hiking the Wilson Creek Area
Wilson Creek was designated as a National Wild and Scenic River by Congress on August 18, 2000, after years of support from local governments and environmentalist groups. As a result, this river has become the centerpoint for a visit to the Grandfather Ranger District, so named for Grandfather Mountain, the highest point in the district and on the Blue Ridge at 5964'.
Grandfather Mountain is also the headwaters for this beautiful stream. While Forest Service lands in this part of the district are somewhat fragmented, it is threaded with state and forest service roads leading to dozens of trails, which lead to scenic waterfalls, river gorges, and clifftop vistas.
For the purposes of this site, the Wilson Creek trailhead includes all National Forest areas between the Linville Gorge, the Blue Ridge Parkway, US Hwy. 321, and the Piedmont. This roughly diamond-shaped area is draped across the Blue Ridge Escarpment between the Piedmont and the high peaks along the Parkway. This area includes Wilson Creek itself as well as trails around the streams north and south of Wilson Creek draining the Blue Ridge.
A new visitor information center, opened in October 2002, is located on Brown Mountain Beach Road upstream of the Gorge section of Wilson Creek. You will want to stop in here and buy or at least look at one of the maps for the area.
The trail network in the area is fairly extensive, but it can be confusing, and many trails are in bad shape. Also, many areas are designated backcountry or even under consideration for wilderness, so for the most part, compass-and-map carrying is a must. Luckily, most trailheads are at least well-signed. Some trails are least blazed, but many are not. Expect a wilderness-like experience when hiking here.
Places to Stay
Backcountry camping is allowed on most areas of the National Forest. Standard rules apply. However, camping is NOT allowed within 500 feet of Wilson Creek itself due to the Wild and Scenic designation.
Developed camping is available at the Mortimer Campground, open from April 1st to October 31st. There are now just 11 sites for tents and small trailers in the campground. There used to be 23 sites, but 12 of them were closed in April 2012 due to a potential risk of flash flooding. Fire rings, picnic tables, and 2 bathhouses with flushing toilets and showers are available. The fee is $17.00 per night. Trails start within the campground itself and it is centrally located, so it makes an excellent base from which to explore the entire Wilson Creek and Grandfather Ranger District area. Get here early, as these few sites will fill up fast!
Hopefully, the Forest Service will consider adding some more sites to this area in the future to make up for the sites lost due to flood risk.
To request that your place of lodging be listed on this site, please contact us.
There are various ways to get to the Wilson Creek area. These directions are for the Wilson Creek Visitor Center. Further directions to various hikes and trails will start at the visitor center.
Take I-240 East to I-40 East through Black Mountain and down the mountain to Morganton. Take Exit 100 (Jamestown Rd.). Turn left at the end of the ramp. At the third traffic light, turn left onto NC 181 north. Follow 181 for about 12 miles to Brown Mtn. Beach Rd., at a church, and turn right. Go about 5 miles; just past a bridge over Wilson Creek (which looks like a small river) turn left to stay on Brown Mtn. Beach Rd. (There is a sign for the Pisgah National Forest Mortimer Campground.) You will follow Wilson Creek through the settlement of Brown Mountain Beach, then into its beautiful Gorge section, and the visitor center is on the left approximately 5.5 miles past the left turn.