Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blue Ridge Parkway: Mount Pisgah Trail (Blog Hike #605)

Trail: Mount Pisgah Trail
Hike Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Mount Pisgah
Geographic Location: southwest of Asheville, NC
Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: August 2016
Overview: A rocky out-and-back, fairly flat at first but steep near the end, to the summit of Mount Pisgah.

Directions to the trailhead: From Asheville, drive the Blue Ridge Parkway south to the signed Mount Pisgah parking area access road on the left.  This road is reached at Parkway mile marker 407.6.  Turn left onto the access road, and drive it uphill to the blacktop parking lot at its end.

The hike: As you leave Asheville and start the Blue Ridge Parkway’s southern-most segment toward Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the first major recreation area you reach is the Mount Pisgah Campground and Visitor Center.  At almost 5000 feet in elevation, the Mount Pisgah base area is regionally famous for cool summer temperatures and fantastic views.  The area offers a 140-site campground, the rustic 51-room Pisgah Inn, a restaurant, a picnic area, and a gift shop.
5721 foot Mount Pisgah gets its name from the mountain in Deuteronomy from which Moses first looked on the land God promised to Israel.  The observation deck at the mountain’s summit is only accessible by hiking the rocky 1.3 mile one-way Mount Pisgah Trail described here, which gains 715 feet of elevation.  Despite the trail’s difficulty, the outstanding view and the trailhead’s location along the Parkway make this hike rather popular in the summer.  Try to plan a weekday or shoulder-season visit to minimize the crowds.
Trailhead: Mount Pisgah Trail
The trail starts at an information board at the rear of the parking lot.  Almost immediately the trail to the base area campground and picnic area exits left.  Continue straight to head for the summit of Mount Pisgah.  At just over 0.1 miles, you pass a large rock outcrop on the right that kids (and some adults) will enjoy climbing.
Large rock outcrop
The rocky trail makes a sweeping curve to the right as it climbs gradually.  At 0.6 miles, you reach the crest of Pisgah Ridge in a high saddle between Mount Pisgah to the west and Little Pisgah Mountain to the east.  The trail curves west here, and soon the grade intensifies.  Some rock steps aid the hiker, but overall for the rest of the trail the terrain is rugged and the going slow.
Climbing on rocky trail
Near 1 mile into the hike, you have to climb up a short rock outcrop that will probably require you to use your hands as well as your feet.  More stone steps bring you to a switchback and your first good view at 1.1 miles.  This vista points south toward the Mount Pisgah base area and lower hills beyond.
View south from Mount Pisgah

View west from Mount Pisgah
A pair of switchbacks raises the trail higher, and soon you enter a mountain laurel tunnel.  When you see the WLOS TV and radio tower through the trees ahead, you have almost made it to the summit.  A few more twists and turns bring you to the summit’s wooden observation platform, which was built in 1979 by the Youth Conservation Corps.  Although the TV tower blocks the view to the north, the view in the other three directions is excellent.  Cold Mountain and Black Balsam Knob dominate the view to the west, while Black Mountain stands to the south.  The only trail to this summit is the one you hiked up, so after taking in the view you have to retrace your steps 1.3 miles downhill to the parking area to complete the hike.


  1. Hi. I stumbled across your blog looking for pics of longleaf forests. I recently purchased William Bartram's book "Travels Thru North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida....". Also, I purchased a copy of Bill Finch's (Director of Mobile Botanical Gardens) "Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See...". These books are fantastic. I would like to quote for you here an excerpt from William Bartram's book where he describes his first sight of the forest at Augusta, GA (at the time in 1775 a tiny settlement)after he traveled up the Savannah River from Savannah. "This plain is mostly a forest of the great long-leaved pine the earth covered with grass, interspersed with an infinite variety of herbaceous plants, and embellished with extensive savannas, always green, sparkling with ponds of water, and ornamented with clumps of evergreen, and other trees and shrubs, as Magnolia grandiflora, Magnolia glauca, Gordonia, Ilelex aquifoluium, Quercus, various species, Laurus Borbonia, Chionanthus, Hopea tinctoria, Cyrilla, Kalmia augustifolia, Andromeda, varieities, Viburnum, Azalea, Rhus vernix, Prinos, varieties, Fothergilla, and a new shrub of great beauty and singularity........... Thus have I endeavoured to give the reader a short and natural description of the vast plain lying between the region of Augusta and the sea coast". His book is full of descriptions of his hikes throughout the Southeast. I hope you get a chance to read it. He lived in Philadelphia where I live and there is a beautiful garden there I have visited. Anyway, I love hiking in my area. Have you ever hiked the Batona Trail in southern NJ? During the New Deal the CCC re-planted stands of the native Atlantic White Cypress (it had been clear cut by settlers in the 1800's) and it is a beautiful swampy forest. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your blog. Hiking is very good for the soul. Thanks for writing it. Tom in Philadelphia

    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the kind and thoughtful comment. I have not hiked in New Jersey: that is one of the 11 states I have not hiked in. I live in South Carolina, and I have come across CCC-planted forests all over the southeast and midwest. My part of the country has a backpack trail called the Bartram Trail that more or less follows Bartram's journeys across the southeast. I have done 1 dayhike on the Bartram Trail (Blog Hike #264), and I hope to do more in the future.

      Have a great time on the trail,

      David, aka the Mathprofhiker