More than 2 million visitors each year come to the Pisgah Ranger District in Pisgah National Forest and that number is growing each year. With more than 160,000 acres, the district is known nationally for its outstanding recreational opportunities and spectacular diversity of plant and animal life.
Of the 160,000 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, an educational movie and 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. Other Attractions
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 historic site. There are three accessible trails on site for families with strollers, wheelchairs and others to explore the forest up close. The covered amphitheater is perfect for your enjoyment at the summer Song Catchers Music Series and other events.
Campers have four developed campgrounds to choose from in the district, including Davidson River Campground, which is open year round and has 161 developed sites. North Mills River Campground now has a Group Camping Site available. Ongoing projects are meant to improve forest conditions by enhancing wildlife habitat, decreasing invasive species, improving safety and providing forest products for visitors. 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 wow.recreation.gov.
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.
Each year, there are reports of injuries or fatalities at waterfalls or waterways in Transylvania County. The following are some key safety tips:
•Stay on developed trails and don’t stray from observation decks and platforms.
•Stay back from the edge — the top of the falls is the most dangerous.
•Watch your footing — dry rocks can be just as slippery as wet ones, especially if covered in algae.
•Stay out of restricted areas.
•Do not climb on rocks near waterfalls.
•Wear stable shoes.
•Don’t jump or dive off waterfalls — submerged rocks, trees or debris could be just below the water’s surface.
•Don’t swim in waterfall pools.
•Watch children carefully. •If you find yourself accidentally swimming in fast-moving water, do not try to stand up. Most drowning incidents result from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge or between boulders. The force of the water will push you over and hold you under.
PISGAH FOREST HIGHLIGHTS:
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 in Pisgah Forest. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, the waterfall is 9.2 miles on the left.)
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 (and lots of fun coming down!). 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. Look for the trailhead on the right less than half-a-mile from the turn.
Each summer — though some brave souls do venture during colder periods — 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 $2 per person and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May 26-Sept. 3, 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.
THE PISGAH CONSERVANCY
A relatively new organization, The Pisgah Conservancy, has been formed to raise money and generally help Pisgah National Forest. The Pisgah Conservancy 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 watershed 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.pisgah conservancy.org.
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. For more information on the TRACK Trail Program, visit www.kidsinparks.com. The Ranger Station/Visitor Center is located about 1 mile off U.S. 276 from the forest entrance in Pisgah Forest.