Wildcat Rock Trail in Hickory Nut Gorge
Wildcat Rock Trail Details
Length: 3 miles round trip
Region: Hickory Nut Gorge
Duration of hike: 2-3 hours
Elevation gain: 1,110 feet
Type: Out & Back
Facilities & Parking: Small parking area
Features: Pet Friendly, Waterfalls, Views
A relatively new Western North Carolina trail offers challenges and rewards
The Wildcat Rock Trail features a waterfall, long-range views, caves and wildflowers.
Completed in 2017, the three-mile (each way) trail is the result of years of conservation efforts between a local couple and several conservation groups.
The trail itself is the brainchild of Conserving Carolinas trails coordinator Peter Barr, who received the 2018 Coalition of Recreational Trails' Achievement Award for the Wildcat Rock Trail in the design and construction category.
What to Expect
From the parking area, cross the street at the crosswalk to start the trail, which runs along a wooden fence through an old orchard. Once you cross the orchard, you’ll come to a set of wooden steps that lead down to a bridge over Hickory Creek. From here, turn left (don’t go right: it’s private property).
The trail starts through a rhododendron thicket and follows and old logging road briefly. It then deviates from the road and become narrow and steep, incorporating several sets of stone steps and switchbacks, with a few creek hops thrown in. The trail gains 650 feet in about a mile, giving this hike its ‘strenuous’ designation.
At the 1.1 mile point, you’ll reach the generally low-flow, 100-foot Little Bearwallow Falls, which is a popular ice-climbing destination in the winter and a rock-climbing destination year-round.
The trail continues up even more steeply on the right side of the falls via 130 stone steps. Continue to two more sets of stone steps, then a half-mile gentle slope. At the 1.8-mile point, stay left when you see a trail intersection at the right. Just beyond this, there’s a spur trail to the left that climbs to Wildcat Rock (it goes up, not down and is easy to miss, plus you’ll have to climb through a rock crevasse and climb downed trees). From atop the rock, you’ll have views of the Craggy Mountains in the distance.
Continue on the trail through a rhododendron thicket. At the 2.8-mile point, you’ll reach the open fields of Little Bearwallow Mountain. Further on, you’ll be able to see Bearwallow Mountain.
The great news: work will get under way in the next couple years to connect this trail to the Bearwallow Mountain trail, linking the two impressive peaks together. Thanks to conservation efforts this trail will eventually become part of a 20-mile trail through Upper Hickory Nut Gorge.
Watch our video below for a one-minute tour!
From Asheville, take 1-240 East to US-74 ALT East toward Bat Cave. Stay on US-74 for about 14 miles. You’ll see a small parking area on the left side of the road, in front of an old chimney and stone wall. There’s a sign here that says “Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead.” The entrance to the Wildcat Rock trail is across the street: there is a crosswalk to follow. Take the log stairway to the right of the sign. At the base of the steps, turn to the right and look for the old wooden fence. You’ll see the round, red Conserving Carolina marker indicating the Wildcat Rock trail on a post at the beginning.
Photos by Jason Tarr of ExploreAsheville.com