Hard Times Loop Trail
Take a hike in the forest just 15 minutes from downtown Asheville
What to Expect
This gentle trail takes hikers through Bent Creek Experimental Forest and the North Carolina Arboretum, with great views of mountain ridges and Lake Powhatan, as well as a glimpse of the magnificent Biltmore House.
From the trailhead, walk through the gate and down the road. At the first intersection, turn right with a canal on your left. If you continued on that road, you'd reach Lake Powhatan, which offers swimming, camping, and easy walking.
Instead take a left across a cement bridge over the canal and continue up Hard Times Road as it climbs up gently. This road is one of several old Forest Service roads, which have been turned into trails, though the map labels them as roads. At one point, Biltmore Estate and Asheville's skyline are visible in the distance on the left through the trees.
After gently climbing several hundred feet, Hard Times Road reaches the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) and the Blue Ridge Parkway, at about MP 395 on the right. At 2.5 miles, the MST and Hard Times Road are together for a very short while, and then the MST veers off to the right.
The road reaches the back fence of the arboretum. Go through the fence and notice the parking area for the North Carolina Arboretum. Just before the parking area, take Old Mill Trail on the left, which will take you through the Arboretum. Turn left onto the Bent Creek Road. The flat road follows the creek. Walk out of the Arboretum through the fence, and soon you're back at your car.
Take I-26E to exit 33, NC 191. Turn left onto NC 191 South and drive two miles. Turn right at the stoplight onto Bent Creek Ranch Road and follow the brown signs to the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area. After 0.2 mile, bear left onto Wesley Branch Road. The Hard Times Trailhead parking area is just over 2 miles down this road on the right. TIP: The parking area tends to get crowded on weekends. Plan to hike early in the day.
Photo by Danny Bernstein.