Doing Pisgah Perfectly
By Mark File
A Fun-Filled Day in Pisgah National Forest
The Pisgah National Forest is home to mile-high peaks, countless waterfalls, rushing rivers, endless trails and rich forests covering a mind-boggling half million acres. This vast preserve reaches north and west of Asheville and includes the first tract of land purchased under the Weeks Act of 1911 that led to the creation of national forests in the eastern United States.
You would need weeks to explore Pisgah properly. But if you have just a day, find the best of Pisgah along a 12-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 276 starting from Brevard (an easy 30-minute drive from Asheville). Your first stop should be the Pisgah Ranger Station on the right for the latest info on fun for all interests, including best hiking trails, mountain biking and horseback rides, along with informative exhibits about the forest.
Drive a few more miles for a short detour to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. Walk the hatchery raceways to watch thousands of trout that will stock many mountain rivers. Inside, see exhibits and watch an award-winning documentary on the area’s fascinating natural history. Find numerous trails at the center for either a short stroll or challenging hike. Walk the Cat Gap Loop trail for a mile to Cedar Rock Falls or stroll along the river.
For the more adventurous, take one of the most iconic hikes in the state to the top of Looking Glass Rock with sweeping views. The 6.5-mile roundtrip hike is strenuous, so allow at least four hours. You’ll find the trailhead along the road leading to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife.
Back along US 276, stop at one of many riverside picnic tables for lunch. By the way, stop at a farmer’s market or deli in the city to pick up food before you leave the city since you won’t find any restaurants or stores inside the forest.
Next, stop at a gorgeous roadside waterfall, Looking Glass Falls. It’s one of the most beautiful settings you’ll find. During the summer, dip your toes in the chilly water.
Another mile up the road is the ever-popular Sliding Rock, the natural waterslide that delights both kids and adults each summer. In cooler months, it’s a very tranquil spot to enjoy.
Drive four miles more to the Cradle of Forestry, the site of the first forestry school in America. Today it features many historic buildings, trails, exhibits and fun events like the Twilight Firefly Tour and the Songcatchers music series.
To return to Asheville, continue up US 276 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and head north. For the perfect topper to the day, stop at long-time favorite Pisgah Inn for dinner paired with panoramic mountain views.
Note: If you prefer a guided expedition, ride the trails with Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures or go horseback riding at Pisgah Stables to Twin Falls.