Pisgah National Forest

Once property of George W. Vanderbilt, and considered the birthplace to modern forestry in America, Pisgah is home to old-growth forests and the highest mountain peaks east of the Mississippi.

Visit Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is comprised of more than 500,000 acres of hardwood forest, mile-high mountain peaks, whitewater rivers, thundering waterfalls and hundreds of miles of top hiking trails. It's no wonder, this area is considered one of the nation's best for outdoor recreation. Pisgah National Forest (pronounced PIZ-guh) is located in Western North Carolina, both to the north and south of Asheville. The nearest access point to Pisgah National Forest is less than 10 minutes from downtown Asheville.   

Among its claims to fame, Pisgah National Forest is home to the United States' first forestry school, which you can see today at the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site. And, the Forest is the site of two of the first designated wilderness areas in the Eastern United States—Shining Rock and Linville Gorge. Parts of Pisgah National Forest are considered a temperate rainforest because of its climate and annual rainfall.

Nearly 100,000 acres of the forest near Asheville was once part of Biltmore Estate, the site of America's Largest Home. Looking Glass Rock Mid Fall Color 2016

Top Things to Do in Pisgah National Forest

When you venture into the great outdoors in and around Asheville, chances are you'll be exploring a part of Pisgah National Forest. From hiking trails to scenic drives to main attractions, Pisgah National Forest has it all.

The forest is broken into three main Ranger Districts. The Pisgah Ranger District lies on either side of the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville. The Appalachian Ranger District includes the area northwest of Asheville along the North Carolina/Tennessee state line and the area northeast of Asheville that includes Mount Mitchell. The Grandfather Ranger District includes the land farther north and east, such as Linville Gorge.

1. Scenic Drives: The Blue Ridge Parkway, America's favorite scenic drive, travels through large parts of Pisgah National Forest to the north and south of Asheville. In Asheville, there are four main entrances to the Parkway. See our guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway to learn more! Another popular scenic drive is the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway (US Highway 276), which connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 411.9. Featured along this 15-mile stretch are top attractions including Looking Glass Falls, Moore Cove Falls, Sliding Rock natural waterslide and the Cradle of Forestry historic site. The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway entrance is near the city of Brevard, just 30 miles south of downtown Asheville.

Couple hiking at waterfall2. Hiking: Pisgah National Forest offers some of the region's best hiking trails. Explore waterfalls, the highest peaks in the East, beautiful vistas and old-growth forests. Hikes range from easy to strenuous. Check out our Asheville hiking guide to begin planning your trail adventure. Find your perfect Asheville hiking trail! Use our Asheville Hike Finder to easily filter by distance from downtown, trail length and difficulty level.

3. Picnicking: There are numerous picnic areas, picnic tables and picnic shelters throughout Pisgah National Forest.  

4. Mountain/Road biking: There are dozens of mountain biking areas throughout the National Forest. These areas include Bent Creek Experimental Forest in south Asheville.

Top Hikes and Places to See in Pisgah National Forest

From natural wonders to historic attractions, these are just a few highlights of Pisgah National Forest. This list also includes great Pisgah National Forest hikes. Click on the name of each location for more information. (Distances from downtown Asheville are shown in parenthesis.) 

Pisgah Ranger District (South of Asheville)

  • North Carolina Arboretum: Located in south Asheville next to an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the North Carolina Arboretum has 65 acres of gardens and 10 miles of forested trails. (10 miles, 17 minutes)
  • Bent Creek Experimental Forest/Lake Powhatan: Bent Creek in south Asheville is a popular hiking and mountain biking area. (10 miles, 17 minutes)
  • Mount Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway: See Asheville's most iconic peak up close and personal. (26 miles, 40 minutes)  
  • Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway: This area, named for its unique landscape, offers relatively easy hiking trails to access to two waterfalls. (37 miles, 55 minutes)Lower Falls at Graveyard Fields
  • Black Balsam on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Black Balsam is a local and visitor favorite for hiking, especially on the popular Art Loeb Trail. (40 miles, 1 hour) 
  • Cradle of Forestry on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway: Here you'll find the first forestry school in America. The historic site offers guided walks, historic buildings, exhibitions and Forest Discovery Center. (31 miles, 40 minutes)
  • Moore Cove Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway: Hike this easy trail to a 50-foot waterfall that you can walk behind. (38 miles, 45 minutes)
  • Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway: One of the most photographed waterfalls in the South, 60-foot Pisgah National Forest, is visible from US Highway 276. (37 miles, 47 minutes)Looking Glass Falls
  • Looking Glass Rock on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway: Hike to the top of this iconic white-granite pluton rock to reach amazing 360-degree views. (36 miles, 50 minutes)
  • John Rock on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway: See a waterfall on this hike to beautiful views. (38 miles, 55 minutes)
  • Sliding Rock Natural Water Slide on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway: Feel the rush of sliding down a 60-foot all-natural water slide. (40 miles, 55 minutesSliding Rock

Appalachian and Grandfather Ranger Districts (Northwest and northeast of Asheville)

  • Catawba Falls: Hike to a series of cascades that, together, are 100 feet tall. (25 miles, 30 minutes)
  • Douglas Falls in the Big Ivy area: Walk behind 70-foot Douglas Falls. (32 miles, 1 hour 10 minutes)
  • Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Breathtaking views await you here at elevation 5,640 feet. (24 miles, 35 minutes)    
  • Mount Mitchell on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Explore the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. (35 miles, 1 hour)
  • Max Patch: Feel on top of the world at this mountain bald that offers 360-degree panoramic views. (40 miles, 1 hour 10 minutes)A beautiful summer sunset view at Max Patch near Asheville, NC
  • Linville Gorge: Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, Linville Gorge Wilderness is home to numerous hiking trails. (60 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes)

Plan Your Trip to Pisgah National Forest

What to know

COST: It is free to access Pisgah National Forest. Individual attractions, such as the North Carolina Arboretum and the Cradle of Forestry do require admission.

HOURS: The forest is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some recreation areas may have their own hours.

ACCESS: Pisgah National Forest can be accessed by nearly all major highways. The two primary scenic drives are the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway (US 276).

VISITOR CENTERS/INFORMATION: The main visitor center for Pisgah National Forest is located at the Pisgah Ranger District Station located at 1001 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, NC. The following other offices are not visitor centers but do provide visitor information: Appalachian Ranger District office (632 Manor Road, Mars Hill, NC) and The Grandfather Ranger District (109 Lawing Drive, Nebo, NC).  

PETS: Pisgah National Forest is pet-friendly. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on leash.

Hiking at Black Balsam

History of Pisgah National Forest

Much of what is now Pisgah National Forest was once home to the Cherokee.

It was the Reverend James Hall who is considered the first person to call the region "Pisgah." He named an iconic peak "Mount Pisgah," a reference to the Biblical peak where Moses viewed the promised land.

More than a hundred years later when George Vanderbilt constructed Biltmore in the 1890s, Vanderbilt sought to create a forest reserve as part of the estate. He enlisted Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenck to manage the forest and establish the first forestry school in America.

Pisgah National Forest was established in 1915 when the Vanderbilt family sold the federal government 86,700 acres of forest land. Today, Pisgah National Forest encompasses 500,000 acres and 15 North Carolina counties.

Source: North Carolina History ProjectBiltmore & Italian Gardens