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.

View of Linville Gorge from Snooks Nose
View of Linville Gorge from Snooks Nose
Spring Green and Red Maple
Spring Green and Red Maple

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.

Hiking Trails

Until recently, the Curtis Creek area was largely underdeveloped as far as trails were concerned, with large areas off the main road managed as backcountry and some of the older trails fading into obscurity.

New Trails on the National Forests ⁉

That changed considerably in June 2022 when the first phase of the Old Fort Gateway Trails opened, with 6 miles of newly-constructed trails completed out of a planned 40+ mile expansion of the Grandfather Ranger District's trail network. Located near the entrance to the Curtis Creek area, the trails are easily accessible from Old Fort and have quickly become quite popular.

Old Fort Gateway Trailhead Map
Old Fort Gateway Trailhead Map

Combined with Jarrett Creek Road, this "stacked loop" trail system provides an optimal experience for mountain bikers, but the trails are also open to hiking.

Look for the trailhead sign 1.5 miles west of US 70 on Curtis Creek Road.

Oldies But Goodies

A few other, older hiking-only trails can be found farther up the Curtis Creek and Newberry Creek valleys. Except for the stretch of trail leading to Hickory Branch Falls, and to a lesser extent Snook's Nose, the trails are very lightly used and maintain a backcountry character. 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 ft vertical 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.

Falls on Hickory Branch
Falls on Hickory Branch

Hickory Branch Trail

More Difficult
  • The orange-blazed trail starts across the road from the parking area, on the hill behind campsite #16c. Look for the tall brown stake which serves as the trailhead sign. The trail begins by climbing to the top of the ridge. Don't go straight up; turn...
  • 1.6mi, Climbs Moderately, Some Obstacles

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. The portion that used to head east down to the middle of Mackey Creek is now closed and unmaintained.

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.

Fall Color on Mackey Mountain
Fall Color on Mackey Mountain

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.

View from Snooks Nose
View from Snooks Nose

Licklog Hike

Easy Hike
  • This is an easy, scenic hike with a silly name making it kid-friendly! It consists of a pleasant walk along a rolling, grassy forest road ending in three wildlife meadows. Along the way, you'll enjoy a beautiful, varied forest with conifers normally...
  • 1.8mi, Climbs Gently
  • Tread Condition: Few Obstacles

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.



Map Information

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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).

Related Pages