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Pisgah National Forest: Hiking, Waterfalls and Camping Mecca

Also See: Asheville Hiking Top Picks | Nantahala National Forest | Cold Mountain | Waterfall Hikes | Great Smokies Hiking | Max Patch and Lover's Leap | Appalachian Trail | Mt. Craig | Looking Glass | Roan Mountain | Linville Gorge | Horseback Riding | Pink Beds Hike | Bear Safety

Looking Glass Falls - Fall Color
Looking Glass Falls

The 500,000+ acres of the Pisgah National Forest surrounding Asheville features some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery, and the best recreational opportunities in eastern North America. The Pisgah National Forest is a large forest that covers much of the north and central western mountains of North Carolina - with whitewater rivers, waterfalls and hundreds of miles of trails. It is home of the first tract of land purchased under the Weeks Act of 1911 which led to the creation of the national forests in the eastern United States. It is also home of the first school of forestry in the United States, now preserved at the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site, and boasts two of the first designated wilderness areas in the east. All of this land was originally part of the Biltmore Estate!

Waterfall & Hiking Map Pisgah Ranger District
See our waterfall and hiking map for part of the Pisgah Ranger District.

Cairn & Waterfall
A cairn and cascade along a hiking trail in Pisgah National Forest.

Log Bridge
One of many log bridges on hiking trails.

Pisgah is broken up into four Ranger Districts.

The Pisgah Ranger District is dominated by Mt. Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway and extends on both sides of the Parkway. It is located roughly between the towns of Brevard, Waynesville and Asheville, NC. This area is especially noted for easy access to many beautiful waterfalls, Sliding Rock, wonderful hiking and camping opportunities, the Cradle of Forestry, and more. Mountain bike at Bent Creek. The district also includes the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness areas. Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. See hikes for Looking Glass Rock, John Rock, Black Balsam Knob , Sam Knob, Graveyard Fields, Skinny Dips Falls, Daniel Ridge Falls, Log Hollow Falls, Cove Creek Falls, Twin Falls, Slick Rock Falls, Pink Beds Hike, Mt. Pisgah, Courthouse Falls, Wildcat Falls, Devil's Courthouse and the NC Arboretum. It's home at the impressive Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.
Pisgah Ranger District Office / Visitor Center
1001 Pisgah Highway
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768
(828) 877-3265
Directions: On US 276, north of Brevard.

The Appalachian/French Broad Ranger District lies along the North Carolina / Tennessee border, northeast of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Among the highlights of this region are the Harmon Den area - a mecca for horseback riders, Max Patch mountain - offering stunning panoramic views, the French Broad River, Lover's Leap and the Appalachian Trail.
Appalachian/French Broad Ranger District
P.O. Box 128
Hot Springs, NC 28743
(828) 622-3202
Directions: On US 25/70 in Hot Springs

The Grandfather Ranger District lies southeast of the Blue Ridge Parkway from north of Asheville to Blowing Rock, NC. Linville Gorge is the predominant feature of the area with very rugged terrain to challenge even experienced hikers. There are also easier trails. Other significant features include the Wilson Creek area, which is highly favored among kayakers and the Brown Mountain Off-Road Vehicle area. The Point Lookout Trail opened in 2008 for bikers. Nearby is Catawba Falls. Great trails near Linville Falls include Beacon Heights, Rough Ridge, and Chestoa View. Also see Roaring Fork Falls, Setrock Creek Falls, Tom's Creek Falls and Upper Creek Falls.
Grandfather Ranger District
Route 1, Box 110-A
Nebo, NC 28761
(828) 652-2144
Exit 90 off I-40 at Nebo/Lake James exit. About 9 miles east of Marion.

The Appalachian/Toecane Ranger District lies northwest of the Blue Ridge Parkway from north of Asheville to Blowing Rock and to the Tennessee state line. This area contains some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the east including important wildflower habitats at Craggy Gardens and Roan Mountain. Also included in this district are Mt. Mitchell - highest point in eastern America and Grandfather Mountain - an international biosphere preserve, although neither of these are actually National Forest property. The peak of Mt. Mitchell and neighboring Mt. Craig is a North Carolina State Park. Grandfather Mountain is privately owned, but open to the public with an admission charge.
Appalachian/Toecane Ranger District
P.O. Box 128
Burnsville, NC 28714
(828) 682-6146
On US 19-E bypass in Burnsville.

The Pisgah National Forest offers full-featured campgrounds like Lake Powhatan as well as primitive and group campgrounds. Download a PDF of National Forest Service mountain camping near Asheville. See our Camping Guide and our Bear Safety Tips.

Dogs are allowed on a leash on all trails. Also see Pet Friendly Asheville.

Official US Forest Service Map
Download a PDF map (50+ MG) of Pisgah and Nantahala Forest and save on your mobile device or computer!

More Info
Download PDF 16-page Guide to the National Forests in North Carolina
See a list of day use areas in Pisgah National Forest.
Bent Creek Trail Map (includes the NC Arboretum area in Asheville)

The beginnings of the Pisgah National Forest occurred when George Vanderbilt, the grandson of railroad baron, Cornelius Vanderbilt, assembled property around his growing estate at the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers in western North Carolina. As he added to his 125,000 acre estate, one of the acquisitions included Mt. Pisgah. The mountain dominates the Pisgah Ledge, which parallels the French Broad River west of the Biltmore Estate. West of Biltmore, thousands of acres of his "Pisgah Forest" were managed for the production of timber, water, and other natural resources. These lands were managed first by Gifford Pinchot, forester, conservationist, and first Chief of the Forest Service; and later by Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck, a German forester hired by Vanderbilt on Pinchot's recommendation. The area was sold after Vanderbilt's death in 1914 to the U.S. Government and became one of the first tracts of the Pisgah National Forest. Purchase of land to become National Forest was possible because farsighted North Carolina law makers passed state legislation and supported the passage in the Federal Congress of the 1911 Weeks Act. The first tract of land purchased under the Weeks Act for the Pisgah National Forest was in McDowell County. The process initiated here also began the establishment of all other National Forests east of the Mississippi. This 8,100-acre tract on Curtis Creek can be reached on Forest Service Road #482 which goes north off U.S. Highway 70, 2 miles northeast of Old Fort. The tract is appropriately signed and identified. From these first purchases, including the Pisgah Forest tract purchased in 1917 from Vanderbilt's widow, grew the half million acre Pisgah National Forest. It, along with the Nantahala National Forest, makes up a significant portion of the remaining forested land in western North Carolina.


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Writing & Photography By Mark File - ©2003-2015 File Investments, Inc - All Rights Reserved