TRAVEL TO NORTH CAROLINA MOUNTAINS

Art Loeb Trail provides access to the summit of Black Balsam Knob in Pisgah National Forest. The mountain offers panoramic views.

The sun peeks through the fog during a winter sunrise near Beech Gap in Pisgah National Forest.

Try to imagine what this route would look like if you were making this trip a hundred years ago. You’d be traveling on a logging train, for one thing, as roads were mostly nonexistent. The biggest difference would be on the mountain slopes. All the trees would be cut, the slopes bare and eroded, and with so much dry logging slash all over the place, wildfires would be rampant. (One devastating wildfire in 1925 caused the mill to shut down entirely.) Walk along most any trail in the gorge today and you’ll find steel cables, railroad rails, and serrated trail surfaces caused by rotted crossties all evidence of the intense logging that once occurred here. But just look around as you drive through the gorge; except for the fact that there are no big trees, it’s hard to imagine that this forested area was once a wasteland. The landscape is a fine showcase of nature’s resilience.

At Beech Gap, you pass back under the Blue Ridge Parkway and start downhill again. A number of nice waterfalls are nearby. Dill Falls and Courthouse Falls, two beauties, are accessed easily from Forest Service roads leading off the main route.

The gravel Forest Road 475, which takes you from NC 215 back to U.S. 276, provides access to a number of excellent hiking trails and several waterfalls. It also passes by the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, a facility operated by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Here you’ll find the popular Bobby N. Setzer State Fish Hatchery, which raises trout for stocking local streams. From 1933 to 1936, this site hosted the CCC, one of more than a hundred similar camps across the state. Also here are the trailheads for a number of popular hiking trails, including one to the summit of John Rock, which looms over the hatchery and provides outstanding views.

Just beyond the hatchery is the trailhead for one of the most popular trails in the area, leading to the summit of Looking Glass Rock. You surely noticed the rock at some point along your drive, especially if the sun was shining. That’s when the light reflects like a mirror off the usually wet rock surface. Looking Glass Rock is a great spot for rock climbers.


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