Pickens Mountain Trail & East Fork Falls Hike Route Map

Headwaters State Forest - Pickens Mountain Trail & East Fork Falls

Headwaters State Forest is a recently established piece of protected property along the North Carolina-South Carolina border in Transylvania County. Established in 2009 with the acquisition of land by local conservancy groups, Headwaters opened to the public in 2018 and encompasses nearly 7,000-acres. Named for its location surrounding the headwaters of the East Fork French Broad River the State Forest is a rugged and all but undeveloped piece of real estate containing wooded ridges and numerous waterfalls (although the advertised 20+ count may be a bit exaggerated). Since the forest is still in its infancy as public property very little, if any, infrastructure exists providing access as yet. There are only two official trailheads and maps of the roads/paths within it are vague and hard to find. For those worried that Headwaters might someday become the zoo nearby DuPont is, there is some hope…the NC Forest Service has stated it intends to build little more than a couple small parking areas. Otherwise it will remain preserved in the wild state in which it currently exists. So, for those of us with a sense of adventure and a good map, we can experience this new state forest at its most raw...untouched as-yet by the hands of man.

With 2020's COVID-19 pandemic in full swing much of the surrounding public lands of my home Transylvania County were closed to visitors. I decided, thus, that this would be the perfect time to set about exploring Headwaters. I mapped out a series of a half-dozen hikes which, when combined with earlier visits would allow me to cover most of the existing trail system within the forest.  At a glance, I quickly determined that this was likely to be the least spectacular of the lot.  The Pickens Mountain Trail is a point-to-point footpath which runs for just over three miles, passing over its namesake peak, connecting Glady Fork Road and Dolly Masters Road.  With elevations never in excess of 3,000-feet and terrain that, for the area, wasn't going to be all that rugged I would not be likely to encounter any spectacular lookoffs or the like.  In this I turned out to be completely correct.  The entirety of this hike is through thick woodlands.  On the upside much of the forest here is dominated by mature pines which, for me at least, makes any walk in the woods automatically that much more enjoyable.  In all honesty, its probably what saved this hike from being rather boring.

As a point-to-point I had my choice of which trailhead to start at.  Somewhat arbitrarily I decided to hike it west to east initially and then backtrack.  Upon completing the hike I don't know that there's really any advantage in hiking it in the direction I did or the other way from the standpoint of effort.  The trail begins along Glady Fork Road just north of where it crosses Glady Fork itself.  There's no signage indicating the trail, you just have to look for an old gated forest road heading steeply uphill into the woods.  The initial climb from the trailhead will get you warmed up in a hurry, but it is brief.  Soon you'll find yourself descending once again headed back towards Glady Fork again, which the trail bumps up against in a large grassy clearing.  Poke your head through the rhodo along the bank and look upstream.  There's a pretty little cascade you may wander up and have a look at as I did.  After Glady Fork the trail once again climbs, this time for a more extended period, as you'll now be crossing the long ridge seperating the drainage of Glady Fork from that of the East Fork.  This is some of the steepest climbing of the day,  You'll know when you come alongside the East Fork, it's quite the noisy little stream, though initially it'll be far below you so will be out of sight.  The trail now descends until it's perhaps fifty feet above the river, but it gets no closer.  As soon as it reaches its closest approach it then veers southward to begin the long climb of Pickens Mountain.

For the next mile or so the grade is steadily uphill.  Initially the trail follows alongside a narrow valley which cuts into the west side of Pickens before turning to pass along the mountains south side.  The climb through the valley is moderately steep, the climb along the south slopes quite easy.  Thought named for Pickens Mountain, the trail doesn't actually bother to pass over the summit.  This is just as well as I doubt a few hundred feet more elevation would make any difference from a view standpoint.  As it is the route is a pleasantly easy and meandering one with the surrounding forest dominated by tall, stately pine trees.  The highest elevation of the hike is reached as it crests the ridge extending to the east from the summit.  A quick walk downhill from this point and, before you know it, you'll find yourself arriving at the west terminus of the trail at Dolly Masters Road.  Unless you've arranged a pick-up, you'll now have to do as I did and simply retrace your steps back to where you started.  If upon completing the Pickens Mountain Trail you find yourself a bit unfulfilled from a natural beauty standpoint I have one bonus stop for you to make after you've finished...namely East Fork Falls.  It's barely two miles away by car.  You just head north to East Fork Road and then turn right to the small pull off I have pictured in the album.  From the parking area a short but steep path leads to the river below the falls.  At barely fifteen feet in height this isn't a large falls by any means, but what it lack in size it more than makes up for in power and setting.  The East Fork is surprisingly impressive as it is squeezed down over the broken rock cleft that forms the falls.  Beneath the river almost immediately calms, with beautiful multi-colored rocks covering the riverbed.  It's a wonderful place to cap off what would otherwise be a rather hum-drum hike.  Don't miss it!

As I've said already this isn't going to be a hike that sits at the top of anybodys must-do list.  If, however, you just want a quiet walk in the woods where you're unlikely to come across another human soul (especially attractive during a pandemic) then this moderately difficult trail might fit the bill.  Just please DON'T miss out on visiting East Fork Falls afterwards...you'll thank me.  Other than that there's not much more to say about this little trek, I'll let the album do the rest of the talking.  It's my pleasure, then, to present a hike of the Pickens Mountain Trail in Headwaters State Forest (along with a bonus stop at East Fork Falls)...as always, I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.116006, -82.763628  (Glady Fork Road Trailhead)

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.103709, -82.746496  (Dolly Masters Road Alternate Trailhead)

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.113728, -82.747765  (East Fork Falls Parking)


Route Type:  Out-and-back       Difficulty:  HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  9.20 )

Hike Length:  7.2 miles                Hike Duration:  3:00

Trailhead Temp:  70'F                 Trail Traffic:  NONE!!

Min. Elevation:  2,310'                   Max. Elevation:  2,760'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,000'           Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  139'


Trails Used (blaze color):  East Fork Falls (unblazed), Pickens Mountain (unblazed)


***HEADWATERS STATE FOREST is still in its early stages of development so it is possible, if not likely, that the names/blaze color of trails used here will change in the future. Please refer to the official N.C. Forest Service page for the most up to date info.***


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