Beginner’s Guide to Camping in Pisgah National Forest
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Beginner’s Guide to Camping in Pisgah National Forest

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With more than half a million acres of Appalachian landscape to explore, Pisgah National Forest is a nature lover’s paradise. Nestled in the westernmost part of North Carolina and wrapping around Ashville, Pisgah is home to jaw-dropping mountain views, whitewater rivers, towering waterfalls, and abundant outdoor recreational opportunities. 

Pisgah was the first tract of land purchased under the Weeks Act, which authorized the federal government to buy private land to preserve and protect rivers and streams in the Eastern United States. Pisgah was established as a national forest in 1916 and included 86,700 acres the federal government bought from Edith Vanderbilt in 1914.

Pisgah National Forest is also the birthplace of forestry in America and was home to the country’s first school of forestry, the Biltmore Forest School, founded in 1898. The school has been preserved at the 6,500-acre  Cradle of Forestry in America historic site, which includes trails, seven historical buildings, a 1914 Climax logging train engine, and a Discovery Center. 

The National Forest also boasts two of the first designated wilderness areas in the eastern U.S., Shining Rock Wilderness, and Linville Gorge Wilderness, both designated by Congress in 1964. A third designated wilderness area, Middle Pron Wilderness, was added in 1984. 

Take a Hike

Offering hundreds of miles of backcountry trails, Pisgah is also a hiker’s dream come true. Must-hike routes include Looking Glass Rock Trail, which leads adventurers to incredible panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains at the summit and massive reflective rock walls along the way. Although the trail sees heavy traffic in the summer and fall, the scenery at the vista is well-worth sharing the trail and the steep climb to get there. 

Mount Mitchell Trail leads hikers up to the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Graveyard Fields Trail leads to two separate waterfalls through stunning fields of wildflowers and blueberry bushes. The hike is classified as “strenuous” and is 5.6 miles one way, so be prepared. 

If you’re looking for an easy, relaxing hike, try Graveyard Fields Loop Trail. This 3.5-mile trail is a popular hike for families due to its ease and access to two gorgeous waterfalls. 

Camping in Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah also offers a wide range of camping opportunities, from full-service RV sites to primitive dispersed camping.  And if camping overnight isn’t your speed, Pisgah also has a ton of day-use areas that are perfect for afternoon picnics. 

Pisgah National Forest is bear country and campers should take precautions to prevent negative encounters with black bears. Bear canisters are required in many parts of Pisgah, including Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam, Sam’s Knob, and Flat Laurel Creek Areas. 

Campers should never leave food unattended or keep food in their tents. All food should be promptly cleaned from grills and fire rings. 

Rocky Bluff Campground

Located three miles south of Hot Spring, NC, Rocky Bluff Campground is the perfect spot for campers looking for solitude but who don’t want to forgo basic amenities like flush toilets and clean drinking water. 

Rocky Bluff also makes a great home base for trout fishermen. The 1.2-mile Spring Creek Nature Trail circles the campground and provides easy access to excellent angling spots along the creek. 

The campground has 16 tent sites and is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. There are no first-come sites available in Rocky Bluff. Reservations are required and must be made at least two days in advance.

Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area and Campground

Snaked by the South Toe River, Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area features cool, shaded campsites canopied by tall hardwood trees. Its proximity to the river provides ample opportunities for aquatic fun, including fishing, swimming, and tubing. 

Close to Burnsville, NC, Carolina Hemlocks has 37 tent sites, flush toilets, fresh drinking water, and showers. 

Lake Powhatan Campground

If rough camping isn’t really your thing, Lake Powhatan Campground has twelve custom-designed, fully-furnished canvas platform glamping tents in the heart of Pisgah National Forest. It is also located just ten minutes from downtown Asheville, which offers abundant shopping, fine dining, entertainment, and cultural opportunities. 

The campground also features a string of tent sites and RV sites with full electrical hookups. All sites are within easy walking distance of the lake. Campers can enjoy restrooms with hot showers and flush toilets, and each site includes a picnic table, campfire ring with a grill, and a lantern post.

Mortimer Campground

Mortimer Campground is a low-use area with only ten RV and tent sites, and it is perfect for campers who hate crowds. The closest towns are Lenoir and Edgemnot. 

Mortimer Campground is well off the beaten path. Facilities include flush toilets, showers, and picnic tables. Advance reservations are required. 

North Mills River Campground

North Mills River Campground, near North Mills, NC, offers 17 RV and tent sites. Although all sites are non-electric, the campground provides showers and flush toilets. 

All sites are well-shaded, and the whole campground is relatively secluded. The North Mills River crisscrosses through most of the campground and provides plenty of swimming, fishing, and paddling opportunities. 

Plenty of black bears are in the area, so bring your bear spray, but each site is equipped with a bear box for safe food storage. 

Davidson River Campground

Located within the Davidson River Recreation Area just four miles west of Brevard, NC, this campground offers eight loops of lovely shaded campsites with easy access to popular hiking trails (including the Art Loeb Trail and North Slope Trail), fishing spots, and beautiful waterfalls. Many of the sites are adjacent to the river.

Campground facilities include flush toilets and showers, and each campsite is equipped with a picnic table, a tent pad, a campfire ring with a grill, and a lantern post.

Reservations are required and must be made at least four days in advance. 

Sunburst Campground

Built on the site of an old logging camp near the West Fork and Pigeon Rivers, Sunburst Campground offers nine tent sites available on a first-come-first-served basis. The campground is only open from March 27 to November 16 and features a bathhouse with flush toilets. 

Wash Creek Horse Camp

Located just five miles northeast of North Mills River Recreation Area, Wash Creek Horse Camp has wide open spaces and easy access to several equestrian trails. This camp features only one horse-friendly campsite, so you must make reservations well in advance. 

The site accommodates up to 35 campers and up to 15 vehicles. It also has vault toilets. 

Harmon Den Horse Camp

Conveniently located in Mars Hill, NC, near Exit 7 on Interstate 40, Harmon Den Area offers nearly 55 miles of trails, with 14 designated for horseback riding. Harmon Den Horsecamp provides 11 campsites convenient to the horse trails. Reservations are required and must be made at least four days in advance of your stay, with a cost of $15 per night per site. The horse camp has only meager amenities, including vault toilets and hand-pumped drinking water.  

Wolf Ford Horse Camp

Wolf Ford Horse Camp caters to equestrian enthusiasts. It features 12 reservable sites with plenty of room for your horse trailer and four-legged friends. There are vault toilets on site.

Briar Bottom Group Campground

Located in the shadow of the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, Briar Bottom Campground has six sites that accommodate up to 50 people. Reservations are required. 

White Pines Group Campground

Perfect for larger groups, White Pines Campground offers walk-in, tent-only sites. The campground features adjacent parking, convenient vault toilets, and potable water.

Kuykendall Group Campground

Located near Brevard, NC, Kuykendall Group Campground is a single group site that can only be reached by fording Kuykendall Creek. The stream can swell dangerously during heavy rain, and should only be crossed by high-profile four-wheel drive vehicles. Reservations are required.

Cove Creek Lower Group Campground

Cove Creek Lower Group Campground offers two group sites and accommodates groups of up to 60 people. Although amenities are few and far between, the campground does feature convenient vault toilets and fresh drinking water. Cove Creek Lower Campground is open year-round and can only be reserved by advance reservation. 

Dispersed Camping

Whether you call in dispersed, backcountry, or primitive camping, Pisgah has many opportunities for camping outside of established campgrounds. With only a few exceptions, backcountry camping doesn’t require any reservations or permits, and it is totally free. 

Roadside dispersed camping is only allowed in designated spots (marked with brown wooden signs with white triangles) along 148 Cold Springs Creek Road (148),  Big Ivy- Barnardsville (74), Neals Creek  (2074), and South Toe River Road (472) between Black Mountain Campground and the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Roadside camping is allowed along any other forest service road within Pisgah as long as your vehicle is pulled entirely off the road and you do not stay for more than 14 consecutive days. Your camp must also be at least 200 feet from any water source.

Linville Gorge Wilderness

Although there are no designated campsites within the Wilderness boundaries, to maintain wilderness solitude, only a limited number of overnight camping permits are issued for Linville Gorge Wilderness on weekends from May to October. Reservations for permits are issued on a first-come-first-served basis and are limited to 50 people per night. Popular backcountry camping spots within the Wilderness area include Hawksbill Mountain and Shortoff Mountain trails. 

Boone Fork Campground

Boone Fork Campground is no longer a maintained area, but hikers still use the area. All sites are primitive, and there are no toilets or running water. 

Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic River Area

Wilson Creek, a 23-mile mountain stream, was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in 2000. Beginning near the top of Grandfather Mountain, most of the creek’s length lies within Pisgah National Forest. 

An idyllic destination for fishing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting, the area offers ample opportunity for dispersed camping. Although the Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic River Area is open year-round, restrooms are closed during the winter months.

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