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 trail on the ridge line.
This ridgeline trail, called Lead Mine Gap, connects from the end of Hickory Branch trail across Buckeye Knob back to Curtis Creek Road to the north. This section is fairly well maintained. From Hickory Branch trail, Lead Mine Gap officially continues - not to Lead Mine Gap, but east down to the middle of Mackey Creek. This section is not well maintained, and some trip reports I've read indicate that it's difficult to follow.
Just up Curtis Creek 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 trail, even though the trail officially connects back to lower Mackey Creek road. But there are several potential connections you could make back east down to Mackey Creek (by following the old route, if you can found it), south to Stillhouse Branch, or north to Locust Creek via old, abandoned routes.
Everything past Narrows Knob on the Mackey Mountain trail should be considered wilderness travel.
Also starting at the same location on Curtis Creek Road as the Mackey Mountain trail is the Sugar Cove trail (#213), an now-closed old road leading down into Sugar Cove and FS 1188.
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 drainage from near the north end of Snook's Nose trail, expanding the long-distance hiking opportunities into the Star Gap and Heartbreak Ridge areas near Old Fort for intrepid multi-day backpacking trips.
Some other closed, gated Forest Service roads exist in the area which make great hiking opportunities as well. The old Sugar Cove Road is one of them. Another old road, Licklog Road (FS 482B) near the upper end of the Curtis Creek drainage just off the Blue Ridge Parkway is such a great route that it's one of the Best Easy Hikes in the region!
This is just an overview of the hiking trails in the area. For a list of all trails, see the Curtis Creek Trails page.
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Trail layers and downloadable data are all original works created by WNCOutdoors with guidance from a variety of sources, including ensembles of our own GPS tracks, user contributed GPS tracks, official maps and GIS data from government agencies, and field observations. WNCOutdoors data is made freely available under the Open Database License - you are free to copy and use it for any purpose under the terms of that license (summary).
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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.
A hiker parking area with a few picnic tables is also available by Curtis Creek near the upper part of the campground.
More lodging options are available in the towns of Old Fort, Black Mountain, and Marion (from closest to farthest).