Mills River Area - Pisgah National Forest

Overview

Suspension bridge over the Mills River

The Mills River area is the largest in the Pisgah Ranger District. Trails in this area tend to be less popular, more remote, and less traveled than their counterparts over the ridge in either Bent Creek or Davidson River. Two main watercourses flow through the area - the North and South Mills River, which join together near the town of Mills River further East. These rivers drain the south side of the Pisgah Ridge, which sports the highest elevations in the Mills River area (up to over 5000' on Laurel Mountain). Much of the area is composed of the lower ridges between the Bent Creek and Davidson River areas, however.

The North Mills River Recreation Area - the only developed recreation area in Mills River - is a fairly popular day use area at the edge of the National Forest boundary. The area is is separated from Bent Creek by the Pisgah Ridge itself and the Blue Ridge Parkway, but a gravel road connects the two areas. It's separated from the Davidson River drainage by Rich Mountain and Black Mountain, but another forest road connects the two areas. Funneltop Mountain, a landmark easily visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, sits right in the middle of the Mills River Trailhead area between the North and South Mills Rivers.

Hiking Trails

A vast selection of trails lie within this Trailhead area. Starting in the North from the road connecting Bent Creek and North Mills River Recreation Area, a short spur road leads southwest to the Trace Ridge Trailhead. Two nice trails - Bear Branch and Bad Fork - can be accessed from near this intersection. At the end of the spur is the Forest Service's official Trace Ridge trailhead parking area, which is popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and fishermen. From there, the Trace Ridge, Fletcher Creek, and North Mills River trails connect to the longer Big Creek and Middle Fork trails. And those lead all the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The South Mills River trail makes many crossings of the river without bridges.

To the south lies (not surprisingly) the South Mills River. This river is rugged and wild, with many excellent trails criss-crossing the gorge and mountains through which it runs, such as the South Mills River, Mullinax, and Squirrel Gap trails. Several of these trails can be accessed from the Forest Service's official Turkeypen trailhead parking area. From here, there are connections with trails in the Davidson River area, making for excellent epic loops and backpacking trips.

Several more popular trails are located in the Bradley Creek drainage, which is a large tributary of the Mills River. Located below the Blue Ridge Parkway (and connecting with trails on that property including the Mountains to Sea Trail) are the Pilot Rock, Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Loop, and Laurel Mountain trails, among others.

For detailed information on each individual trail in the area including all the ones mentioned briefly above, please visit the Trails page.

Places to Stay

In addition to the information shown below, the towns of Mills River, Fletcher (near the Asheville Airport), Asheville, Hendersonville, and Brevard present numerous camping and lodging options near the Mills River area, all within about 30 minutes' drive.

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, especially those in the South Mills River section, for possible backpacking loops.

Developed Camping

The North Mills River Campground is located five miles west of NC 280 on North Mills River Road - at the entrance to the National Forest. Now open year-round (with limited services from November 1 - March 31), this campground offers 32 level, shady sites with flush toilets. Smaller RV's will fit into some sites and are welcome, but no water or electricity hookups are provided. Rates are $11-$14/night. The campground is across the road from the river and a picnic area and large grassy meadow are nearby. The campground is within a short distance of trails that start at Trace Ridge trailhead, and within a few minutes' drive of all trails in the area. Additional information and reservations are available at Reserve USA.

There are designated roadside campsites along FS 5000 and FS 1206 as well. These sites have recently been re-graded, with the parking areas enlarged, steps added, gravel tent pads and lantern posts as well as some other fixtures such as fire rings installed. This makes these sites much more desirable for those looking to save a buck on campsites, but they are first-come, first-served and are usually completely full on summer weekends.

Lodging

If you would like to see your place of lodging listed here, please contact us.

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