Friday, June 28, 2013

Pisgah National Forest: Caney Bottom Loop (Blog Hike #395)

Trail: Caney Bottom Loop Trail
Hike Location: Pisgah National Forest, Cove Creek Group Camp
Geographic Location: northwest of BrevardNC (35.28307, -82.81693)
Length: 5.2 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: September 2012
Overview: A lollipop loop featuring Cove Creek Falls.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the US 276/US 64 split on the north side of Brevard, take US 276 west 5.3 miles to Fish Hatchery Road (FR 475).  Take a soft left on Fish Hatchery Rd.  Follow Fish Hatchery Rd. 3.5 miles to the end of the pavement and the small trailhead parking area on the left opposite the signed Cove Creek Group Camp access road on the right.  The trailhead parking area is large enough to hold 5 or 6 cars.  Park here.

The hike: The Davidson River valley in the Pisgah National Forest northwest of Brevard contains the trailheads for many great hikes.  The most popular trail in the area is the difficult Looking Glass Rock Trail, which leads to its famous namesake landmark.  The Cat Gap Trail departs from the fish hatchery you pass on your way to this trailhead; it leads to John Rock, a smaller version of Looking Glass Rock.  Further up the valley, the Farlow Gap Trail leads to spectacular Shuck Ridge Falls.
            Often lost in the smorgasbord of day-hiking is the Caney Bottom Loop described here.  Perhaps this trail’s lack of popularity for dayhikers is due to the trailhead’s location at the group camp.  The group camp is often booked to capacity on weekends, so plan a trip here on a weekday if solitude is what you desire.  In spite of camp traffic, I only passed two other people on this trail during my visit on a nice Saturday in early fall.
Gated road at trailhead
            Begin by walking around the vehicle gate and heading up the gravel camp access road.  In only a few hundred feet, the road reaches Cove Creek.  Some hikers wade through the creek at the vehicle ford, but hikers in the know will take the single-track trail to the right and cross on the nice wooden footbridge.
            At 0.2 miles, the gravel road passes a waterfall in Cove Creek to the right.  Water cascades about 20 feet over several tiers.  This small waterfall is nice, but it is only a warm-up for the one to come.
View from top of small waterfall in Cove Creek
            0.35 miles into the hike, the single-track Caney Bottom Loop Trail exits the camp road to the left just before the road enters the campground.  A carsonite stake and an unusual wooden arch made of sticks mark this point.  Turn softly left to begin the Caney Bottom Loop Trail.  Less than 0.1 miles later the blue-blazed Caney Bottom Loop Trail turns right where an unmarked old forest road continues straight.  A carsonite post and double blue blaze appear here, so this turn is well-marked, as is most of this trail.
            The trail crosses a small creek on stepping stones and climbs on a gradual to moderate grade as it traces the perimeter of the campground, which can be seen downhill to the right.  At 0.7 miles, the trail forks to form the loop.  Turn right to follow the blue blazes of the Caney Bottom Trail; the yellow-blazed Cove Creek Trail continuing straight will be our return route.
Campsite beside Cove Creek
            The trail switchbacks downhill to arrive at an established campsite.  Near the campsite, look for an unmarked trail that continues straight where the main blue-blazed trail switchbacks to the right; this is the trail to Cove Creek Falls.  0.3 miles of gradual climbing brings you to the falls.  Water drops nearly 70 feet in several tiers before gathering in a medium-sized plunge pool.  The steep rhododendron-covered walls around this waterfall add to the scenery.  This falls is the highlight of the hike, so take some time to enjoy it.
            A very steep trail leads up the left side of the waterfall and connects with the return portion of this hike, but to see the entire Caney Bottom Loop, reverse course to the main blue-blazed trail and angle left to resume the loop.  1.4 miles into the hike, the trail crosses Cove Creek on a narrow wooden footbridge.  Now on the east side of Cove Creek, the trail traces around the end of a ridge and enters the Caney Creek drainage.
Bridge across Cove Creek
            Just before reaching Caney Creek, an unmarked trail exits to the right at a sharp angle.  Angle gently left to follow the blue blazes and stay on the main trail.  The major climb of this hike now begins as the trail gains elevation with Caney Creek only feet to the right.  The steepest section comes at the beginning where Caney Creek drops down a 50 foot waterslide.  Unfortunately, thick stands of rhododendron prevent a clear view of the waterslide.
Log bridge on Caney Bottom Trail
            The trail stays within earshot of Caney Creek as it continues to climb gradually.  Near 2.1 miles, the trail crosses the first of several unusual bridges, this one across Caney Creek.  These bridges consist of several logs placed lengthwise across a stream.  The bridges look rather flimsy, but they all got me across safely, and crossing on the logs is easier and dryer than wading across the creek.
            Just past the first of these bridges, I encountered a sequence of downed trees that forced me to crawl on hands and knees to proceed.  At 2.3 miles, you reach the upper end of the blue-blazed Caney Bottom Trail where it intersects the yellow-blazed Cove Creek Trail, which goes right and left.  Turning right would lead to a secondary parking area on FR 225, so you should turn left to head back to the group camp.
Intersection with Cove Creek Trail
            Almost immediately the trail fords Caney Creek and ascends gradually, soon reaching the highest point on this hike.  The wide Cove Creek Trail follows an old road for its entire distance, and therefore the gradual downhill hiking is very easy except for a few wet areas and some more log bridges.  Whereas the Caney Bottom Trail was hiker-only, this trail is also open to mountain bikes.  At 3.3 miles, an unmarked side trail exits right where the main trail turns left to cross the main branch of Cove Creek on another log bridge.  A double yellow blaze marks this turn.
            The gradual descent continues as the ravine containing Cove Creek falls steeply to the left.  4.2 miles into the hike, you pass a brown carsonite sign marking a side trail to Cove Creek Falls.  This trail is the upper end of the very steep trail you saw exiting the base of the waterfall earlier in the hike, so there is no need to follow this side trail if you saw the falls earlier.  At 4.5 miles, the blue-blazed Caney Bottom Trail comes in from the left, indicating that you have closed the loop.  Retrace your steps 0.7 miles first along the Caney Bottom Trail and then along the group camp access road to return to the parking area and complete the hike.

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