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 ft. elevation.
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 is disjointed in places. A good network of trails exists centered around the Harper Creek area, and loop options are available elsewhere in the watershed.
One of the most popular trails in the area, the Harper Creek trail, takes visitors along its eponymous waterway to a beautiful waterfall, also with the same name. Though the hike to the waterfall is easy, it's a long trail, and traffic drops off dramatically beyond the waterfall as it takes on more wilderness characteristics. This trail, combined with the Raider Camp, North Harper Creek, Yellow Buck, and Mountains to Sea trails can be joined up to form a few loop hiking opportunities in this area, all of which are on the difficult side.
A nice, more moderate loop hike can be made out of the North Harper Creek, North Harper Creek Falls, and Little Lost Cove Cliffs trails, along with a section of Pineola Road (FS 464), and it includes a beautiful waterfall.
The Hunt-Fish Falls trail can be used alone to reach (you guessed it) Hunt-Fish Falls, or it can be used as the start of a longer hike which includes Lost Cove and/or Timber Ridge trails to form tough backcountry loop hikes. The area beyond the falls is under consideration for wilderness status.
The first part of Thorps Creek trail leads to a waterfall with - again - the same name, or you can hike the entire loop if you've got the time and energy.
Finally, a few of the trails are on their own, starting at a road and going to a dead-end or another road, but some of them aren't to be missed. It might be tempting to make these additions when you're looking for something else to do after a longer hike, but most of them could stand as their own hikes (especially for family hikes).
Big Lost Cove Cliffs is one such trail, and the view at the end (of Grandfather Mountain) is fantastic. Darkside Cliffs is shorter, but offers nice views more toward the east. Meanwhile, Upper Creek Falls is short but steep, and you'll undoubtedly want to hang out at the falls for a while when you see them. Wilson Ridge is a long, ambling trail which is a converted road, used primarily by mountain bikers.
Gravel or dirt forest roads can be used to extend your hike options, as you'll need to do to reach this beauty:
Keep in mind that some of the longer trails travel through areas that are designated backcountry or even under consideration for wilderness, so for the most part, compass-and-map carrying is a must. They may not be blazed or signed, and the tread may be in bad shape.
This is just an overview of the trails available in the Wilson Creek area. For all the details, visit the Wilson Creek Trails page.
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 at the campground. 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.