More than 2 million visitors each year come to the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, and that number is growing each year. With more than 170,000 acres, the district is known nationally for its outstanding recreation opportunities and spectacular diversity of plant and animal life. Of the 170,000 acres that make up the Pisgah Ranger District, 88,300 of them are in Transylvania County. The district has about 400 miles of trails, 180 miles of which are open to mountain biking, and 100 miles of trails for horseback riding.
From the Pisgah Forest business community, U.S. 276 winds its way through the district’s heart, going deeper into the forest and stretching roughly 15 miles to connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Part of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, this route has been named a National Scenic Byway, the highest designation a road can receive in the United States.
The Pisgah Ranger Station/Visitor Center has forest information, exhibits, educational movies and a gift shop. A Monarch Waystation is also located in the center’s gardens. Monarch Waystations provide milkweed, nectar sources and shelter needed to sustain Monarch butterflies as they migrate across North America. There is also a very active hummingbird population every summer at the visitor center. The forest came into being after the Vanderbilt family sold a tract of land from the original Biltmore Estate to the United States government in 1914.
The district is also the home of the first school of forestry in the United States, now preserved at the Cradle of Forestry in America heritage site. More than 6,500 acres were designated by Congress to showcase forestry and resource management. The Pink Beds Picnic Area and Loop Trail feature an elevated boardwalk and excellent day- hiking opportunities. At the main entrance off U.S. 276 one can experience the Discovery Center (exhibits, bookstore, movie theater, café) and more than 3 miles of paved accessible trails for families with strollers and wheelchairs to explore the forest up close.
A new app, the Explore Pisgah app, was developed in 2018 for iOS and Android to entertain and educate visitors as they walk through the forest.
Campers have four developed campgrounds to choose from in the district, including the Davidson River Campground, open year round. Developed picnic sites include Sycamore Flats and Coontree. Picnic shelters may be reserved at both Sycamore Flats and Pink Beds. For more information, stop by the Pisgah Ranger Station and Visitor Center, located a mile from the forest entrance on U.S. 276, or call (828) 877-3265. To make a camping reservation at developed campsites, or picnic shelter reservations, call (877) 444-6777 or go to www.recreation.gov.
Be Bear Aware
If bear-proof containers are not available, store food and garbage inside a hard-top vehicle or trailer at campsites and trailheads. Bear canisters are required in the Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam, Sam’s Knob and Flat Laurel Creek areas. Bears by nature are opportunists. Food odors and improperly stored garbage will attract bears to campground and picnic sites. Although they are naturally afraid of humans, the animals lose this fear as they begin to associate human scents with the reward of food. Protect yourself and protect the black bears by storing trash and food in safe locations when you visit a national forest. Make noise to avoid surprising a bear. Keep a clean campsite by properly disposing of food scraps and garbage. Do not leave food or garbage inside fire rings, grills or around your site. Never leave food coolers unattended. Never store food inside of a tent. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, by banging pots together, or throwing rocks and sticks at it. Never run away from a bear—back away slowly and make lots of noise. Pets In The Forest In all developed areas of the Pisgah National Forest, visitors are required to keep their pets leashed. Developed areas are generally considered parking lots, campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads.
Pets must be leashed everywhere within the Bent Creek area of the Pisgah Ranger District. For more tips, visit www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc.
Flash floods can occur with little or no warning. Many occur after dark, when it is difficult to assess the severity of the conditions.
•When visiting a forest always be alert for heavy rains and sudden changes in the weather, especially at night. •Your safety is your own responsibility. Remember, city sirens don’t exist out in nature.
•Camping and recreating along streams and rivers can be risky if thunderstorms are in the area. A creek only 6 inches deep can swell to a 10-foot-deep raging river in less than an hour if a thunderstorm lingers upstream or nearby.
•When water rises at a campsite or recreation area, climb to higher ground immediately. If traveling, do not drive across roads that are covered with water. Make safe choices.
For more tips, visit www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc.
•Looking Glass Falls Among the district’s famous natural landmarks is Looking Glass Falls, which stands 60 feet high and 30 feet wide. Steps and handrails will lead you to the base of the waterfall, which can be viewed from U.S. 276 in the forest. (It’s located on the right roughly 5.6 miles from the forest entrance on U.S. 276. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, the waterfall is roughly 9.2 miles on the left.) During the summer, young and old can be seen regularly swimming and wading at the base.
•Looking Glass Rock With an elevation of 3,969 feet, Looking Glass Rock is a massive dome-like, granite out-cropping that provides spectacular views and is a regional destination for technical rock climbers. The roughly 3.1-mile hike to the summit is moderate to strenuous. From the forest entrance in Pisgah Forest, travel about 5.3 miles on U.S. 276 and then turn left at the sign for the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education Center. Look for the trailhead on the right less than half-a-mile from the turn.
•Sliding Rock Each summer, swimmers enjoy the excitement of Looking Glass Creek’s natural water slide at Sliding Rock Recreation Area. The water slide is 60 feet long, with an 8-foot-deep water hole at the bottom. This very popular site charges a daily fee of $3 per person and is open from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, when lifeguards and other staff are on duty. From the forest entrance in Pisgah Forest, travel about 8 miles. Sliding Rock will be on your left.
•Andy Cove Nature Trail The Andy Cove Nature Trail, which is designated as a National Recreation Trail, is located behind the Ranger Station/Visitor Center. The trail has a swinging bridge that excites both young and old. The Ranger Station/Visitor Center is located about 1 mile off U.S. 276 from the forest entrance in Pisgah Forest.
•The Pisgah Conservancy A relatively new organization, The Pisgah Conservancy, has been formed to raise money and support Pisgah National Forest. The Pisgah Conservancy has established an advisory council that has identified the greatest needs of the forest, focusing on six main goals: supporting more sustainable recreation as it pertains to trails; improving water shed quality; removing invasive species; getting rid of waste, litter and graffiti; improving wildlife habitat; and teaching people what is here and how to appreciate it in a more sustainable fashion. For more information, go to www.pisgahconservancy.org.