: Devil’s Courthouse Pisgah National Forest
Geographic Location: southeast of
Length: 6.9 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2012
Overview: A high-elevation backcountry semi-loop featuring spectacular views from Devil’s Courthouse.
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=124508
Directions to the trailhead: The trailhead is located on the
Blue Ridge Parkway at the Devil’s Courthouse parking area, mile marker 422.4. This mile marker is located 0.9 miles north of SR 215 in North Carolina.
The hike: Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway about an hour south of Asheville, Devil’s Courthouse is a large, dark rock outcrop that towers more than 250 feet above the Parkway. The rock’s dark, sinister appearance gave rise to the legend that the devil holds court inside the rock, hence the outcrop’s name. In spite of the name, the outcrop is also an object of beauty, as some people think the view from the top of Devil’s Courthouse is the best view on the entire Parkway. You will have to climb to the top to see if you agree.
The overlook atop the rock is reached by a fairly steep 0.8-mile trail. The trail to the overlook is paved with blacktop or gravel for its entire length, and it receives fairly heavy traffic even on weekdays. To get away from the crowds and have more of a true hiking experience, I recommend combining the overlook trail with an adjoining 6.1 mile loop in
as described here. Parts of this route use very narrow trail, so I recommend pants instead of shorts for this hike. Also, keep in mind that this entire hike is above 5000 feet in elevation. The elevation keeps this area cool even in the summer, but you may find yourself getting winded more quickly than usual. It took me a shade over 5 hours to complete this hike. Pisgah National Forest
The views begin at the parking area, where an eastward-looking viewpoint gives views as far as
South Carolina. Devil’s Courthouse towers above you to the left, and you can see the overlook at the top of the rock. To reach the overlook, pick up the signed asphalt trail that heads north parallel to the Parkway.
|Devil's Courthouse, as seen from parking area|
At 0.2 miles, the trail curves sharply right where the pavement ends. The narrow gravel trail exiting left here leads to the loop portion of this hike, but for now turn right to remain on the wide trail to the overlook. The trail continues climbing, sometimes on graded gravel path and sometimes on stone steps.
At 0.4 miles, you reach the overlook atop Devil’s Courthouse. On a clear day, this is a four-state view. You can see
in Snowbird Mountain Tennessee to the northwest, Rabun Bald in Georgia to the southwest, Caesars Head in South Carolina to the southeast, and many closer mountains in North Carolina. Interpretive plaques help you identify significant peaks. At just over 5700 feet, Devil’s Courthouse is the highest point on this hike, so take some time to enjoy the view in all directions.
|View south from Devil's Courthouse|
At nearly 1000 miles long, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is
North Carolina’s primary east-west footpath. The trail starts at in the west, roughly follows the Parkway northeast to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Virginia, then turns right to head through the Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham areas before concluding at on Jockey Ridge State Park in the east. Many sections of the trail in the central part of the state follow rural roads, but most national forest sections use single-track dirt paths. New trail sections get built regularly, so keep an eye on the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail website for updates. Cape Hatteras
|Intersecting the Mountains-to-Sea Trail|
1.2 miles into the hike, your first view west emerges as you cross the top of a rocky outcrop. The ribbon of asphalt you see curving below is SR 215, the ultimate destination of this trail segment. Past the lookout, the descent steepens as you pass around a grey rock outcrop. Notice the lichens living on the side of the rock here.
|Lichens on rock outcrop|
|Log bridge over creek|
2.2 miles into the hike, the Flat Laurel Creek Trail exits SR 215 on the right as a two-track gravel road. Turn right to begin the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. The trail descends to pass a campsite and then curves right to pass a carsonite post that marks the trailhead for this trail. Some rocks near the campsite make nice but sunny places to sit and rest near the midpoint of this hike.
Past the campsite, the trail descends slightly more before crossing Spring Branch. A log placed across the 10-foot-wide stream might provide a way across, but on my visit in late summer the stream could be rock-hopped easily. This creek crossing is the lowest elevation on this hike, and on the opposite side the wide single-track gravel trail begins a long, gradual climb that will comprise the next 2 miles of the hike.
|Flat Laurel Creek Trail crossing Spring Branch|
|Tall waterslide beside trail|
At 4.9 miles, the Sam Knob Trail exits left to ford
, which is now only a few feet below the trail. Continue straight to stay on the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. The now narrower trail still climbs gradually with the creek to the left. Flat Laurel Creek
|Beginning of Little Sam Knob Trail|
5.4 miles into the hike, the Little Sam Knob Trail, our route back to Devil’s Courthouse, exits to the right. This intersection is marked by a brown carsonite post. Take a sharp right to begin the final segment of this hike. After negotiating a couple of wet areas, the narrow trail continues the long gradual climb. Thick steel cables buried in this trail and the Flat Laurel Creek Trail indicate that these routes have been used by loggers in the past.
At 5.9 miles, the trail reaches the first of several small streams, all of which must be crossed without the aid of bridges. The largest of these streams is the first one, but it can be rock-hopped under normal water levels. After climbing the steep south side of the ravine, the narrow trail turns right where some wild trails continue straight. No blazes can be seen in this area, so take care not to miss this turn.
|Creek crossing on Little Sam Knob Trail|
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail descends gradually through high-elevation pine forest and crosses a couple of wet areas on more wooden beams built into the trail. 6.6 miles into the hike, you close the loop as you reach the spur trail back to Devil’s Courthouse. A left turn on the spur trail and then a right turn on the paved trail will return you to the parking lot and complete the hike.