Cat Gap Loop Trail

At A Glance


4.4 mi one-way

Difficulty Rating: 6.76
Steepness: Climbs Moderately
Tread Condition: Some Obstacles
Lowest Elevation: 2325 ft
Highest Elevation: 3365 ft
Climb Total: 1090 ft
Blaze Color: Orange
Trail Number: 120
Hikes That Use This Trail: John Rock Loop


Starts and ends at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery. The loop can be hiked in either direction.

This trail circumnavigates John Rock, a granite pluton similar to its bigger brother just north (Looking Glass Rock). Most people choose to bypass a portion Cat Gap for the views on John Rock via the John Rock and Cat Gap Bypass trails, together forming an "inner loop".

This is a varied trail. Forests range from cove hardwoods to groves of hemlock and white pine; in higher elevations there are primarily mixed hardwoods. Understory plants include rhododendron, mountain laurel, and doghobble; look for herbaceous plants including a spectacular spring wildflower display on the trail's east side in Horse Cove.

On its west side, the trail passes a nice waterfall near a large campsite on Cedar Rock Creek. There are several plank & log bridges. It passes near the open, level Picklesimer Fields area at the intersection with the Butter Gap trail.

In between, the trail climbs steeply up and back down to Cat Gap and a junction with the Art Loeb trail on a sometimes eroded path; the Cat Gap Bypass trail can be used to make a level connection around this portion of the climb.

See also the John Rock Hike, which uses portions of this trail.


From Asheville, take I-240 west to I-26 east to the exit for the Asheville Airport (exit 40). Turn right onto NC 280; follow this 4-lane highway for 16 miles toward Brevard. At the intersection with US highways 276 and 64, turn right onto US 276 west (follow signs for Pisgah National Forest). Follow US 276 for 5.2 miles; turn left onto FR 475. Go 1.4 miles to the Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery. Turn left, cross the bridge and park in the parking lot. The trail connects to the parking lot in two places: near the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education building, and at the far end of the lot opposite the building.

Intersecting Trails

  • Butter Gap
  • John Rock
  • Cat Gap Bypass
  • Art Loeb Section 1
  • This trail is located in the Davidson River area. For a list of all the trails in that area, see the Davidson River trails list page.

    All Photos from the Trail

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    GPS Map

    Map Information

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    Trail Segments

    Trails are often made up of several connecting paths which may have different characteristics, allowed uses, and seasons. This trail is divided into multiple segments as follows:

    Fish Hatchery to Butter Gap Tr.

    • Allowed Uses: Hiking, Mountain Biking
    • Length: 0.83 mi

    Butter Gap Tr. to Cat Gap Bypass

    • Allowed Uses: Hiking
    • Length: 0.99 mi

    Cat Gap Bypass to Cat Gap

    • Allowed Uses: Hiking
    • Length: 0.65 mi

    Cat Gap to John Rock Tr.

    • Allowed Uses: Hiking
    • Length: 0.33 mi

    W. John Rock Tr. Intersection to E. John Rock Tr. Intersection

    • Allowed Uses: Hiking
    • Length: 0.55 mi

    John Rock Tr. to Fish Hatchery

    • Allowed Uses: Hiking
    • Length: 1.21 mi

    Total Calculated Length: 4.56 mi

    This value is derived from our underlying map data, and it may not match officially published information.



    Average Rating: 3.8 (rated 8 times)

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    Perry said: The John's Rock trail is a must if you are hiking the Cat Gap Trail Loop. Beautiful view. The only negative I have is that the blazes don't seem to be updated enough or non-existent. From John's Rock back to the Cat Gap Loop Trail I didn't see a single blaze. They were supposed to be yellow but I didn't any.

    Thursday, June 21 2018 6:57pm

    Barbar said: Oh Heather, I feel bad that you did this hike and missed the awesome view of the valley and Looking Glass Rock. I've done this hike twice, just for the view.You apparently missed the short trail that takes you out onto the rock, with amazing unobstructed panoramic views.

    Thursday, September 8 2016 12:06pm

    Kevin said: Hiked most of this loop today with my son. We did take the side trail of John's Rock. At fist we thought we were going to be a little dissappointed as we found a small overlook that was a little obscured by trees. After continuing down the trail about another 1/2 mile we found the true overlook. WOW! On this clear day not only could we could easily see the fish hatchery below us, but had an awsome view of Looking Glass Rock and the the parkway beyond. Heather, I recommend that you give this trail another try if you take the side trail to John's Rock. It a bit steep to begin with, but it is well worth the effort.

    Monday, October 22 2012 12:29am

    Heather said: My friend and I tried this hike again on August 1, 2012 after getting rained out 2 weeks before. The start of the trail is to the left of the hatchery building. The end of this trail is next to Davidson River. It took my friend and I 3 hours and 40 minutes to hike this trail, but we stopped to take pictures periodically and also ate lunch as well. The beginning of this hike starts out well, unless it has rained and the entire trail can get extremely muddy. And don't even think about this trail if it is raining because the trail turns into a stream. After about a mile the trail starts to ascend. And does that for a little over a mile. When you get to the intersection of Cat Gap and the Art Lobe Trail the almost constant cover of trees and rhododendrons break. This is where we ate lunch. After that we continued on and we started our pretty steep decent. Views of Looking Glass Rock are obscured by vegetation. At this time misquotes were annoying and frequently buzzing around along with a cloud of gnats. Sunglasses are a must to keep them out of your eyes. Along the entire trail you cross many steams and creeks. Sometimes over long bridges and sometimes by stones in the water. When the trail intersects with the John Rock Trail this intersection can be confusing because the correct trail to continue is not marked with an orange blaze right there. You have to go down the trail a bit to see the orange blaze on a tree. At the intersections you cane either go up John Rock, back the trail you came, to the Cat Gap Bypass trail, or down a seemingly not marked trail, but this is the one you want to continue on the Cat Gap Loop trail. The trail passes Davidson River and you can tell you are getting to the end of the trail by the bad smelling (but pretty) water. I guess that the bad smell is from the fish from the fish hatchery. The trails ends when you reach the parking lot. This tail did offer a pretty waterfall and pretty streams and creeks. But no real views if you go when vegetation is ripe. On this day we passed 3 couples. I probably will not do this trail again, because I feel there are other trails that offer better views. But this trail was still enjoyable and a good work out for the novice hiker.

    Thursday, August 2 2012 6:10am
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