Wildcat Rock Trail Route Map

Wildcat Rock Trail

The Wildcat Rock Trail is a relatively new footpath located in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge southeast of Asheville. The landscape it crosses has only recently been acquired for preservation through a pair of land easements secured by Conserving Carolina in the years 2013 and 2017. Now known as the Little Bearwallow Mountain Significant Natural Heritage Area, the property encompasses the eastern slopes of its namesake peak and includes such natural features as the 100-foot Little Bearwallow Falls and the scenic outcrop for which the trail is named. The footpath checks in at just under three miles in length (by my measure) as it climbs 1,600 feet from the valley floor to the open pasture atop the ridge adjoining Little Bearwallow Mountain. As it exists now it’s a wonderful little trail but, in the future, it promises to offer one of the truly spectacular hikes in the region as it will eventually connect to the nearby Bearwallow Mountain and Trombatore Trails as a part of a 20-mile loop around the crest of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. I’m always excited to learn of new trails being built in the local area so I was anxious to check out what this one might have to offer. It wasn’t the most scenic of days but this cool spring morning seemed like an opportune time to check things out regardless.

The trailhead is located along U.S. Highway 74A just south of the tiny community of Gerton. A parking area sits off the east side of the road with the trail beginning just across from it (watch for traffic!). The path immediately drops into a pleasantly open orchard area with views of the ridge ahead which the trail will soon be climbing. After losing a small bit of elevation the Wildcat Rock Trail soon enters the woods crossing the tiny but pretty Hickory Creek on a short foot bridge. It’s all uphill from this point so get ready. For the next mile the path and its surroundings are rather unremarkable as the ascent of the ridge begins at a moderate pace. Hiking as I did before the leaves filled in there were some nice views through the bare tree branches of the neighboring ridgeline but no true overlooks. There was, however, a pleasant variety of wildflowers lining the trail which I found more than made up for the lack of scenery. At around the one-mile mark the trail begins a rather steep ascent through an increasingly rocky landscape before emerging at the base of a huge sloping rock face over which Little Bearwallow Falls flows. Let me warn you though, if you’re getting all excited about there being a waterfall on this hike, Little Bearwallow Falls isn’t much to see. At the time of my visit it was little more than a narrow ribbon of water running down a long crack in the rock face. It’s interesting, but I don’t know that I’d consider it worthy of a special stop and climb to see. Perhaps after extended periods of wet weather the cascade might be more impressive but I can only go on the experience I had on my visit. Beyond the falls is perhaps the most strenuous stretch of the trail as the route climbs the base of the cliffs. The terrain is rugged and steep. As you climb it is enjoyable to look up and back along the massive rock face though, which helps take the mind off the job at hand a bit. After another mile of moderate, but otherwise unremarkable, climbing the trail reaches the junction with the Wildcat Rock Spur on the left. It’s a well-marked junction so don’t worry too much about accidentally missing it. Making a left onto the spur another tenth of a mile of climbing sees you emerge onto the open ledge of Wildcat Rock itself. This is the highlight of the hike…as you might imagine since the trail is named for it. From this high perch the views to the north of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge are wonderful. Across the deep valley is the 4,412-foot Little Pisgah Mountain while the much higher Black Mountain Range (or could it be the Craggy’s?) rise on the horizon beyond. On the morning I visited, despite the dreary skies, it was still a unique scene with the higher ridges all sporting a pretty frosting of ice. It’s a spot certainly worthy of a few minutes reflection and enjoyment.

After Wildcat Rock there’s a choice to be made. Either at this point one could simply head back to the car making for a four-mile trek or one can continue on up to the (present) terminus of the trail at the open pasture atop the ridge near Little Bearwallow Mountain. It was really a no-brainer for me as I wanted to explore the entirety of the trail but just let me give you a heads up…Wildcat Rock is definitely the highlight of this hike, there’s not a heck of a lot more to see in making the additional climb to the ridge…so don’t feel bad if you decide to turn back at this point. As stated though, I continued the climb. The trail resumes its moderate ascent as it zig-zags its way up the increasingly steep side of the cliff. A couple breaks in the rhododendron along the way offer some fleeting views but this is the exception rather than the rule along this stretch. Around a mile from Wildcat Rock the trail abruptly ends at a narrow open pasture atop the ridge. To the right the summit of Bearwallow Mountain (4,232’) can be seen. In the future plans are to extend the trail up there, but for now this is where the hike ends. I did decide to make the quick jaunt over to the wooded summit of Little Bearwallow but, trust me, there’s nothing to be gained by doing this other than having the satisfaction of nabbing a non-descript high point.

Turning back down from the ridge the walk back, understandably, went quicker than the climb had. Passing the anemic Little Bearwallow Falls and its impressive surrounding cliffs was a nice highlight again but for the most part I simply just made straight back for the trailhead with nothing of note to add here. Overall this was a very pleasant hike. I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it but I see the potential in what it could become once it is connected to the other excellent trails in the area. Wildcat Rock itself is beautiful; I admit it was probably the dreariness of the day which robbed it of its full appeal for me. Until the trail system is complete, though, I’d probably recommend you just turn back upon visiting it as the rest of the hike to the ridge is pretty unremarkable (unless you just feel like you need more exercise). It was enjoyable to lay tracks on an all-new area trail, however, and I feel lucky to have experienced it early on in its life. With that said I’ll let you come along and decide for yourself if this is a place you’d like to visit…I have a good feeling that you probably might. So, without further adieu, I present to you the Wildcat Rock Trail of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge…as always, enjoy…

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:   35.473402, -82.332321

Route Type:  Out-and-back + spur    Difficulty:  HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  8.70 )

Mileage Hiked:  5.4 miles                    Hike Duration:  2:00

Trailhead Temp:  35'F                          Trail Traffic:  5-10 people

Min. Elevation:  2,400'                          Max. Elevation:  3,963'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,650'                    Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  611' (ascent)

Trails Used (blaze color):  Wildcat Rock (orange), Wildcat Rock Overlook Spur (unblazed)


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