Hiking in the Curtis Creek Area
Curtis Creek is a major tributary of the upper Catawba River, draining the southeast slope of the Blue Ridge not far from the town of Old Fort, NC. Its valley is home to some large swaths of Pisgah National Forest lands, and several trails and notable landmarks are accessible to hikers within the valley.
In addition to the natural scenery, the area has a historic interest as well. It includes the first tract of eastern forest acquired through the Weeks Act in 1911.
For the purposes of this site, we include areas between Iron Mountain in the southwest, US 70 in the southeast, Mackey Mountain in the northeast, and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the northwest, including the Newberry Creek and Mackey Creek drainages adjacent to Curtis Creek.
The Curtis Creek area is largely undeveloped, with large areas off the main road managed as backcountry. Aside from the stretch leading to Hickory Branch Falls, and to a lesser extent Snook's Nose, the trails are lightly used. Some areas may require backcountry navigation skills to traverse, and some trails aren't blazed or maintained for years at a stretch.
Several waterfalls lie along the area's streams, and trails climb the ridges over 3000 vertical ft to span the entire elevation range of the Blue Ridge in this area. Trails at the edges of the area connect to others making longer, multi-day trips that start or end in Curtis Creek a possibility as well.
The Hickory Branch trail starts at the Curtis Creek Campground and goes up and over a ridge into the Hickory Branch drainage, then heads upstream. It passes the waterfall on Hickory Branch and continues on up to a mostly abandoned trail (Lead Mine Gap) on the ridge line.
The Lead Mine gap trail connects from the end of Hickory Branch trail across Buckeye Knob back to Curtis Creek Road to the north. And just up the road from the north end of Lead Mine Gap, the infamous Mackey Mountain trail starts and heads southeast. This trail begins well enough, winding along and across the ridgeline past Sams Knob and over to Narrows Knob, but it fades away as it goes.
The trail becomes all but indistinct before essentially petering out in several directions once reaching Mackey Mountain itself. There are no maintained connections toward the southern end of Mackey Mountain trial, but there are several potential connections you could make back east down to Mackey Creek, south to Stillhouse Branch, or north to Locust Creek via old, abandoned routes. This should all be considered wilderness travel past Narrows Knob.
Another trail, Snook's Nose, starts at the Curtis Creek Campground and climbs steeply past Slick Falls to its namesake - a rock outcrop on the ridge 1600 vertical feet above the campground. This is a highly recommended hike if you're up to the climb. It then continues north uphill along the ridge across Laurel Knob and on up to the Green Knob overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway some 1200 ft higher still. Unlike Mackey Mountain and Lead Mine gap, this trail is maintained, blazed, and easy to follow.
From the overlook, the Parkway's Green Knob trail climbs past the lookout tower and connects to trails in the Black Mountains/South Toe River area for longer hike options.
An unmarked trail (which I haven't field-checked) reportedly leads down into the Newberry Creek draininge from near the north end of Snook's Nose trail, expanding the long-distance hiking opportunities into the Star Gap and Heartbreak Ridge areas for intrepid multi-day backpacking trips.
The Curtis Creek campground is at the junction of Curtis Creek and Hickory Branch at the valley's bottom, along the main road through the area, Curtis Creek Road. It features three loops with 25 sites, some of which are rather spread out and perfect for tent camping. The campground has vault toilets and hand-pump water, and there are no hookups for RV's. All sites include a tent pad, picnic table, lantern post, and fire ring. It is generally open April - December.
More lodging options are available in the towns of Old Fort, Black Mountain, and Marion (from closest to farthest).