Davidson River -- 2,170'

Art Loeb-Davidson River Loop (11-3-18)

It is a rare hike I partake in that doesn’t have a specific goal or destination in mind. Usually there is some summit, waterfall, historic site, or other point of interest driving me to visit specific places. Rarely do I simply enjoy a walk in the woods, as I did on this day. With the colors of autumn once again descending on my home in Transylvania County I didn’t really have the time to get out to a more ‘exotic’ destination on this weekend. Not wanting to miss out on a good foliage hike, though, I decided I’d just pick a random loop in the forest outside of town and simply enjoy whatever beauty the woodlands would provide. As it turned out it was a walk that was as scenic as any I’ve done recently despite the lack of views or other natural landmarks. The foliage season of 2018 had begun incredibly slowly, with warm summer temperatures lasting well into October which caused greens to persist long after they otherwise normally do. It was pretty much expected that the foliage season would be a wash…that once cooler temperatures arrived the leaves would quickly just brown and fall off. As it turned out that wasn’t what happened at all. We actually ended up with one of the nicest leaf seasons I’ve experienced in the South. As a former resident of the North Woods I’ve never been real impressed with the Southern color show…too many species of trees changing at too many different times simply doesn’t allow for the pure vibrant colors which the northern and western parts of the country enjoy. This year, however, it seemed as if all the warm air actually helped by delaying the onset of the color to a point which, when it did finally cool down, every tree in the forest exploded into color at once. It was an amazing treat, and extremely unexpected. I decided that my destination for enjoying this kaleidoscope of color would be the Davidson River Campground area just inside the National Forest boundary, a short drive up US-276, near Brevard. It looked to be a perfect little spot to spend a few hours in the autumn woods…and as it turned out, it was.

My intended loop would start and end at the parking area for the southern terminus of the Art Loeb Trail, which stretches from here at the Davidson River Campground for 30-miles north across the heart of the Pisgah Ranger District. From the parking area I’d follow the Art Loeb Trail for the first half of the loop. Starting out along the Davidson the route begins with a perfectly flat stroll southwards with frequent views of the river itself along the way. About a half-mile in, however, the flavor of the hike changes completely. Here, the Art Loeb Trail turns abruptly away from the Davidson and begins a steep climb of the adjoining ridge up to a point known as High Knob. The sharp transition from flat stroll to steep climb is jarring. The Art Loeb soon turns back to the north as it climbs High Knob where, if you keep a keen watch to your left, you might spot a faint spur trail to your left which leads to the only open viewpoint on this hike. Passing High Knob the trail begins a rolling climb north which continues for the next couple of miles. The ridge the trail follows is fairly narrow but it is thickly forested so the only views to be had are a few fleeting glimpses through the surrounding treetops. The trail climbs and then descends, climbs and then descends…but overall it climbs going from around 2,400-feet at High Knob to well over 3,000 feet at Stony Knob which is the high point of the loop. This is how this hike logs over 1,300-feet of elevation gain despite there only being around 800 vertical feet between its high and low points. It’s a good workout and keeps things from getting too monotonous.

About three miles in the Art Loeb reaches Stony Knob and, at a point just below and to the north of its summit, my loop would now turn onto the connector path between the Art Loeb and the North Slope Trails. Now would begin an extended downhill portion of the hike which, at times, was surprisingly steep. It was along this stretch of trail I found myself hoping against hope there would be a break in the trees allowing for an open view to the north. I could see nearby Looking Glass Rock and the Pisgah Ridge through the trees…a clear view here would have been spectacular. Alas, there were no openings, so I had to be content with teasing glimpses. Before long the connector trail intersected the North Slope Loop Trail itself where I elected to make a left, onto said trail, so I could enjoy a more extended walk along the Davidson River for the final leg of my hike. The trail descends to the north, rounding a low ridge as it pulls up alongside the Davidson and turns south towards the campground. At this point the route goes flat again, as it would remain for the rest of the hike. A the point where the North Slope Trail reaches the north end of the campground the route for the remainder of this hike gets a bit more complicated. Rather than turning to follow the North Slope away from the river I decided to stay alongside the Davidson and follow the unofficial yet well-traveled path which parallels it. There are no blazes along this final stretch along the Davidson but the path is wide and for the most part easy to follow. There are a few potentially confusing junctions but if you simply stay along the west bank of the river you should be able to keep track of the path with no difficulty. There are number of nice places to stop along the Davidson River on this bit of the hike, which I did to enjoy the brilliant colors surrounding and overhanging the stream. I also made a quick stop as the path passes the old English Chapel, a stone church built here in 1940 on the site of a much older facility dating back to the 1860’s. Soon the path brought me to the campground entrance road just across from the parking area where I started.

Although this loop hike won’t win any awards for stunning scenery if you decide to enjoy it during color season, as I did, I guarantee you’ll still feel it was well worth the effort. The foliage on this day was nothing short of spectacular…as I said earlier this may be the most brilliant display I’ve seen by Southern standards. There’s good variety here too with your time closely split between a leisurely river-side walk and a challenging ridge hike more typical of the mountains. If you happen to find yourself camping at the Davidson River Campground this would certainly be a convenient option for a hike if only to just get out for a walk in the trees. So overall I’d say I enjoyed this hike very much, despite the lack of open summits or waterfalls along its length. It made for an almost perfect autumn afternoon in Pisgah without having to travel far at all. So, with all that said I’ll let you get to the colors…this is essentially one big album of the forest, celebrating all the autumn wonder I had the opportunity to enjoy on this day. As always…ENJOY!!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.282047, -82.721629


Route Type:  Loop                       Difficulty:  VERY HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  10.20 )

Hike Length:  7.6 miles                 Hike Duration:  3:30

Trailhead Temp:  55'F                  Trail Traffic:  25-50 people (only 1-5 on Art Loeb Section)

Min. Elevation:  2,150'                   Max. Elevation:  3,100'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,300'            Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  171'


Trails Used (Blaze Color):  Art Loeb (white), Art Loeb-North Slope Connector (yellow), North Slope Loop (blue), Exercise Loop (blue)


  • Dave Kathy Weemhoff

    on November 13, 2018

    Spectacular! Having lived in NC for 6 years, and now out to the edge of the plains, while having grown up with all the vibrant colors of Michigan, well, this just warmed my heart -- beautiful trail to hike -- the variety is pretty cool, including all the tunnels and neck-kinking views!