Hiking in the Davidson River Area

Overview

The Davidson River watershed is one of the most popular area for outdoor recreation within the Pisgah National Forest. This applies to those who enjoy hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, nature study, photography, and other types of outdoor activities alike!

Moore Cove Falls
Moore Cove Falls, one of many in the Davidson River area.

This is the quintessential National Forest recreation area - being so close to a good highway and to town, this area is perfect for someone who loves the outdoors but also likes being close to the amenities of the modern world. But some of the Pisgah ranger district's greatest backcountry and wilderness areas can be accessed from the area as well.

Looking Glass Rock
Looking Glass Rock, which sits right in the heart of the Davidson River area, as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The area lies along either side of US Hwy. 276 as it climbs northwest from the town of Brevard, up the valley and high Pisgah Ridge, to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Two arms reaching southeast from the Pisgah Ridge - called Pilot Mountain and Black Mountain - form two more edges of the watershed, while the eastern end spills out into the French Broad River valley and civilization. Looking Glass Rock - as much an icon of the region as Mt. Pisgah itself - sits right in the middle of the valley.

Below is a description of what you'll find when driving North up US Hwy 276 from Brevard to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Points of interest are shown in red; trails are shown in bold. Numbers show the distance in miles from the big stone Pisgah National Forest entrance sign. All of this is also shown on the Davidson River Area Map.

Trails and Other Attractions Along US Hwy. 276

Leaving Brevard, US highway 276 follows the lower parts of the Davidson River before branching off along Looking Glass Creek. It follows this tributary through a deep valley up to the relatively flat Pink Beds area before ascending the Pisgah Ridge to meet with the Blue Ridge Parkway. A good road, a spectacular natural setting and an incredible network of trails attract throngs of people to this area during the warmer months. This stretch of highway constitutes 15 miles of the 79-mile Forest Heritage Scenic Byway.

Looking Glass Falls
Looking Glass Falls and its namesake, Looking Glass Rock, are icons of the Davidson River area, the Pisgah National Forest, and all of Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Starting at the intersection of US 64/NC 280, you enter the Pisgah National Forest by a dramatic stone entrance marker. The Sycamore Flats Recreation Area (0.3) is the first site you encounter. A large, flat riverside picnic area is located here with all facilities. Next you will pass the large Davidson River Campground (1.1) and the Art Loeb Trailhead on the left. The North Slope and Sycamore Cove (0.9) trails (both moderate half-day loops) are both accessible from this parking area.

You will then pass the Pisgah Ranger District Ranger Station and Visitor Center (1.4) on the right, which offers plenty of parking, exhibits, restrooms, and a gift and book store. They carry excellent maps of this area and staff can provide information about the entire Pisgah National Forest. From the ranger station you can access the Andy Cove Nature Trail, the Exercise Trail, the Thrift Cove Trail, and Grass Road (all nice, easy to moderate trails).

Continuing up US 276, you will pass several smaller picnic areas and roadside tables. Small pull-offs, with enough room for just one or two cars, invite you to stop and walk into the lush woods or down to the river. FS 477 turns right into the Avery Creek valley (2.1), where there are several longer, interconnecting trails including Bennet Gap, Buckwheat Knob, Buckhorn Gap, Avery Creek, Clawhammer Cove and Black Mountain. The Pisgah Horse Stables are also located along this road.

Further along US 276, you'll pass the Coontree Picnic Area (4.7) with access to the Coontree Loop Trail, and a great swimming hole in the Davidson River. Just beyond, the Davidson River and Looking Glass Creek fork apart, and the road splits as well. One fork goes on either side of the ridge formed by Looking Glass Rock.

Lush spring green along the Bennett Gap Trail and the Ridgewalk Best Hike
Lush spring green along the Bennett Gap Trail and the Ridgewalk Best Hike

Side trip: If you turn left here on paved Forest Service Road 475 (5.2), you will continue following the Davidson River. You will pass the very popular trailhead for Looking Glass Rock itself (5.6). The Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery is next (6.6), and is a great place to visit to learn about Pisgah's wildlife & see fish rearing in operation. The parking lot provides access to the Cat Gap Loop, Butter Gap, John Rock and Long Branch trails. Continuing along FS 475, you will find the parking areas for the Cove Creek group camping area and Caney Bottom trail. Still further along you'll reach the Daniel Ridge, Cemetery Loop, Long Branch and the Art Loeb/Mountains to Sea trails. The road then exits the Davidson River area at Gloucester Gap.

If you bear right on US 276 where it intersects 475, you will very quickly come to the beautiful Looking Glass Falls (5.6), one of the most scenic and most-photographed in the state. You will pass several more small, pleasant picnic areas and one trail: Moore Cove Falls (6.6). This is a Best Hike on this site. Next is the parking area for Sliding Rock (7.7). This natural, 60-foot rock water slide ends in a deep, cold, clear pool and is an extremely popular spot for cooling off. The huge parking lot is often nearly full on warm summer weekends. However, sliding the rock is something everyone should do at least once!

Continuing along US 276 will bring you to the Forest Discover Center and Museum at the Cradle of Forestry in America (11.2). This is a large interpretive indoor/outdoor museum, showcasing forestry techniques from their historical beginning right here in the Pisgah National Forest to modern day practices across the nation. A fee is charged here. Next in line is the Pink Beds Picnic Area (11.4). The Pink Beds, a high-elevation, relatively level area at the base of the Pisgah Ridge, supports many rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and wildflowers whose spectacular spring bloom gives this area its name. Technically, the Mills River drains this valley instead of the Davidson. However, it makes sense to include it here since US 276 passes through it & it is within the loop made by the Mountains to Sea Alternate trail. You can access the Pink Beds Loop, Mountains to Sea trail and Club Gap trails from here.

Past the Pink Beds, US 276 begins its slow, steep, winding ascent of the Pisgah Ridge. Two trails, the Buck Spring (12.8) and Mountains To Sea (14.6) trails intersect this section of US 276, one in a hairpin turn. You'll reach the Parkway 15.1 miles beyond the entrance gate.

If you go south along the Parkway, you'll reach Graveyard Fields, the Black Balsam trailhead, and Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses. Four miles north on the parkway lies the Pisgah Inn & Mount Pisgah Recreation Area. Beyond the Parkway along US Hwy. 276, the road descends the other side of the ridge, passes an access point for the Shining Rock Wilderness (the Big East Fork trailhead) after 2.8 miles and continues on into the town of Waynesville after 22 miles.

Amenities in Pisgah Forest and Brevard

The former unincorporated town of Pisgah Forest (now part of Brevard) lies at the big intersection of NC Hwy. 280, US Hwy. 64 and US Hwy. 276. From this intersection, the National Forest entrance gate is 100 yds. W. on US 276. Brevard is a larger town just 3 miles south on US 276. Dupont State Forest via Crab Creek Rd. is 3.7 mi. east on US 64. Hendersonville is 18 miles east on US 64. Asheville via I-26 is 16 mi. north on NC 280.

Besides the food, lodging, and outfitters listed below, everything else you might need - gas stations, a shopping center containing a Wal-Mart and Bi-Lo grocery store, banks, ATM's, and an Eckerd pharmacy - are all located at this intersection.

Dining

After a long hike or a day in the river, everyone is bound to be hungry. For a sit-down meal, Pizza Hut is adjacent to Bi-Lo, and El Chapala Mexican Restaurant (highly recommended) is one block East on US 64. My favorite, Hawg Wild BBQ, is right outside the gate on US 276, as is Dolly's Ice Cream shop.

Make time to visit the wide variety of local restaurants south near downtown Brevard, though. They offer upscale and casual sit-down, fast-food and buffet restaurants for every appetite! If you're in a hurry, there is also fast food in the shopping center (Subway, Taco Bell) & more 2 miles south along US 276/64 (Arby's, McDonalds & Wendy's, among others).

Outfitters

Located here also is Backcountry Outdoors outfitters & bike shop with all the gear you need for your trip into the Davidson River Area. Davidson River Outfitters offers fishing gear and Sycamore Cycles is one block East on US 64, offering more maps and primarily mountain biking gear.

Lodging

The Hampton Inn is located at this corner. The Holiday Inn Express is 0.3 mi. S. on US 276/64. The town of Brevard is approx. 3 miles S. on US 276/64 and presents other lodging options.

For more information on the town of Brevard, visit http://www.brevardnc.com/.

Suggested Places of Lodging

Big Branch Cabins
Experience the best of a Blue Ridge Mountain getaway in beautiful Brevard, North Carolina! Enjoy our charming mountain cabins and our 12 private, wooded acres, bordered by thousands of acres of forestry land. You'll be just a short distance from Dupont State Forest, Pisgah National Forest, Gorges State Park, and Nantahala National Forest including the spectacular Whitewater Falls, highest in the Eastern US. You can hike the Big Branch trail to stream, or enjoy nature in the surrounding thousands of acres of public forest lands. Our two-bedroom cabins are decorated with unique antiques & include a fully functional kitchen, AC, TV/DVD, bed linens/towels, covered porches, outdoor grills, washer/dryer, and a picnic area.
http://www.bigbranchcabins.com/

Hampton Inn Brevard
Fall from your cloud nine bed to the trail when you stay with us at the Hampton Inn Brevard. We are conveniently located at the gateway to the Pisgah National forest where you can actually hike straight from your room to the trail. The hotel is bike friendly and host to numerous cycling groups, races and training programs throughout the year. We also offer a large meeting room for events and can also assist with your group tours.
http://www.hamptoninnbrevard.com

Red House Inn English Bed and Breakfast
The newly renovated Red House Inn provides comfortable bed and breakfast accommodation in downtown Brevard, NC. The Inn is a short walk from many shopping and dining opportunities and within easy driving distance to Brevard Music Center, Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State forest. It is ideally situated for exploring the North Carolina mountains, visiting waterfalls, hiking, mountain biking and fishing. The Red House Inn is owned and operated by a couple who hike and bike frequently with their daughter and dog and will help you plan your outdoor experience in WNC!
http://brevardbedandbreakfast.com/

Camping

Backcountry Camping

Camping is allowed anywhere on National Forest property, except within 500' of a road or in a designated closed area. Good campsites can be found along many trails in the area for possible backpacking loops.

Developed Camping

The Davidson River Campground is located about a mile past the main entrance to the National Forest when coming from Pisgah Forest, on the left. It is open year-round. There are 161 sites, some of which are closed during the winter months. Fees for sites range from $18/00/night for a single site (up to 8 people) away from the river and $20.00/night on the river to $36 & $40 for double sites. Flush toilets, hot showers, and amphitheater, and river swimming and tubing are all offered here. This campground is closest to the most trails: the North Slope trail starts right out of the campground itself, and several others start across the street! It's within a 10 minute drive of all trails in the Davidson River area. For more information and to make reservations, visit Reserve USA.

There are designated roadside campsites along forest service roads in the area as well. Roadside camping is only allowed in designated sites. Most offer level tent pads, with some having lantern posts and fire rings. Others are just nice flat areas. They are first-come, first-served and are usually completely full on summer weekends.

Directions

From Asheville, take I-240 west to I-26 east. Take Asheville Airport exit (exit 9) and go south (right) on NC 280 for 16 miles. At the intersection with US 64/276, turn right onto US 276 and enter the National Forest.

US 276 follows the Davidson River most of the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, with many attractions and trailheads along the way.

Get Driving Directions on Google Maps

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