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 recreation 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. To learn more about the forest’s natural environment, visitors are encouraged to stop by the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery, offering indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well tours of the hatchery.
•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 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 (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 Center. Look for the trailhead on the right less than half-a-mile from the turn.
•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.
•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 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 pertain 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.
Pets In the National 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.
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.
Campers have four developed campgrounds to choose from in the district, including Davidson River Campground, open year round. North Mills River Campground now has a Group Camping Site available. Ongoing projects are meant to improve forest conditions by enhancing wildlife habitat, decreasing non-native 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 www.recreation.gov.
Each year, there are reports of injuries or fatalities at waterfalls or waterways in Transylvania County. The following are some key safety tips:
•Know the potential hazards of waterfalls.
•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.
•Do not climb on rocks near waterfalls.
•Wear stable shoes.
•Don’t jump or dive off waterfalls — submerged rocks, trees or debris could be immediately below the surface of the water.
•Don’t swim in waterfall pools.
•Watch children carefully.
•Stay out of restricted areas.
•Always carry a map of the area.
•Use extreme caution when walking along riverbanks.
•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.
Be Bear Aware
•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 camp site 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.
•If bear-proof containers are not available, store food and garbage inside a hard-top vehicle or trailer. Bear canisters are required in the Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam, Sam’s Knob and Flat Laurel Creek areas. •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.