We get out about once a week to hike usually in central to western North Carolina. We hike slowly and stop often to enjoy the views and the little treasures that nature offers. We enjoy waterfall, river, and mountain hikes frequently visiting The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Moutains National Park, and Pisgah National Forest.
This hike begins at the Turkey Pen Gap parking area at the end of Turkey Pen Gap Road off 280 in the Pisgah National Forest. We were glad Turkey Pen Gap Road was only 1 1/4 miles long because it is narrow, windy, and rough. We arrived about 8:30 in the morning so we could have lots of time for a relaxed hike. We had plans to have a picnic lunch on the trail and look for a bunch of geocaches. We would spend five minutes maximum searching for each cache and then move on if we hadn't found it. We spent 8 hours total on the trails and ended up finding 20 of the 22 caches that we looked for.
The trail head for the Turkey Pen Gap trail is on the left side of the parking area as you drive in. The first .1 miles is a steep climb. After that we continued to climb up a gentler slope. This trail is well maintained and easy to follow. We were soon walking along a ridge with good views at this time of year. After the leaves are out on the trees the views will be more obscured. At about .6 miles we dropped down into a small saddle before beginning a second steep climb to the highest point on the trail. This section is rockier and looks like it would be slippery when wet.
About this time we heard dueling woodpeckers. One would sound off to our left and a second would echo up ahead of us. All would be quiet for a minute and then they would repeat. A small flock of crows flew by. A mountain biker came up behind us walking on this steep hill and commented that he didn't know he would be taking his bike for a walk. We only saw two other people on the trail until we were about a mile from the end of the hike. Nearing the top we encountered another type of wildlife, gnats. They were a nuisance but disappeared when we reached the top a few minutes later. We could hear the river down below on the right in the background.
The actual peak was just another spot on the trail. There were no views or large rocks to rest on. There was a survey marker and a couple of signs. The signs told us that this trail marks the boundary between private property on the left and a bear sanctuary in the Pisgah National Forest on the right. We dropped down a steep slope with new views and enjoyed the slight breeze. We took off our extra layers of clothes and enjoyed the sun along the ridge line below this hill. This peaceful walk along the ridge was the reward for the elevation we had gained. We climbed over a third hill that was easier then the first two and continued on the ridge.
At about 2 miles into the hike we were approaching a fourth hill when we saw the sign for the Wagon Gap Trail on the right. This is where we would descend to the river. If this trail was ever a wagon road it must have been a long time ago.
This is a narrow trail that is not well maintained and is not easy to follow. It is a beautiful area with large trees, moss and ferns, and a small creek following along. We made a total of six creek crossings. The first couple were easy. Then a couple of other little creeks joined the first one and they got rougher. There had been a lot of rain this week so there probably isn't usually this much water. One of the crossing had a primitive log bridge and one had stepping stones At the final crossing we found a fallen log to walk across the creek on.
After the last crossing we were soon in a large campsite. It took some searching to find the trail on the left side of the end of the campsite area. Overall we were glad we had the gps to follow as this trail would be easy to lose. The river trail and the river were just beyond this point. We turned right on the S Mill River Trail, walked past the spot where it appears a road once crossed, and soon arrived at a suspended bridge across the river. This bridge had quite a bounce to it and a sign saying one person at a time. Part of the cable handrails were broken but the bridge itself seemed plenty secure. The river was high and had a strong current so we were glad to use the bridge.
Once across the river we stopped for our picnic at a big log before moving on . The next two miles of trail are along the river. At times you are right beside the river and at times it is a couple hundred feet away. The trail is an old road which is mostly level and easy to follow. The land between the road and the river is level so you can easily walk back over close to the river. In places the trail was wet from springs or runs coming down from the hills on the left but there were rocks or dry spots on the sides to help avoid the mud.
After a mile or so the trail climbs about 150 feet above the river. Just before the hill we saw a group of men and boys camping. After this we saw many small groups of people enjoying the area near the end of the loop. Near the end of the river portion of the hike we passed a marsh area with the sound of many frogs. There was a side trail down to this area but we continued past. Soon after we took a right at the brown forest sign that says footbridge. From here we crossed another suspension bridge where a group of people were enjoying bouncing and walked .4 miles uphill to the parking lot.
I would recommend this hike to groups that are prepared for a long walk and some difficulty staying on the trail. If I was to return here with the grandchildren I would take the trail down to the river and enjoy the bridges and water play rather then taking them on the whole loop. Be aware that there is limited parking and this is a busy place in the summer. On this March day the parking lot was full when we returned.