Avery Creek-Buckwheat Knob Loop
This hike offers a tour into the heart of the upper Avery Creek Watershed and a portion of the high ridges which surround it. There’s good variety to be had on this moderate eight-mile loop. Along the way you’ll stroll through flat, rhododendron-choked river bottoms, enjoy the companionship of beautiful Avery Creek, pass at least one seldom-visited waterfall, and enjoy magnificent ridge-top views from Overlook Rock. With the exception of the upper 1.5-miles of the Avery Creek Trail this a fairly easy walk, fully two-thirds of the climbing is done in that single stretch. The rest of the hike consists of a long, relatively flat walk along Avery Creek and then later the ridge-walk to Overlook Rock which only involves some minor ups and downs. This is, however, a trip in which you should definitely carry a map or have studied the route ahead of time. There are a couple potentially confusing junctions along the way, namely those at the Avery Creek/Buckhorn Gap upper junction and Club Gap, where preparation will help keep you on the right track. Aside from that though it is a well-worn and popular route touring a pleasant variety of habitats.
The hike begins from the small pull-off for the Buckhorn Gap Trail along Forest Road 477. This spot is located 2.7-miles north of U.S. 276 or 0.9-miles north of the Pisgah Horse Stables. From the trailhead the path begins a gradual descent toward Avery Creek but is in no hurry to reach it as it winds its way along the hillside. A half-mile or so in Avery Creek Falls appears through the trees below. Unfortunately, from the Buckhorn Gap Trail, there’s no clear direct way to reach the falls. If you to include them on this hike your best option is to turn right at the lower junction with the Avery Creek Trail, about a quarter-mile from this point, and follow that trail back downstream on the opposite side of the creek. At the aforementioned junction the Buckhorn Gap and Avery Creek Trail conjoin for a few hundred yards, coming right alongside Avery Creek itself for the first time. The upper junction of the two trails is arrived at soon thereafter at perhaps the most confusing junction of the route. Here the Buckhorn Gap Trail makes a hard right to cross Avery Creek via a log bridge while the blue-blazed Avery Creek Trail, which you’ll now be following, heads straight ahead and slightly left staying on the present side of the creek. The next half-mile of the hike is the easiest of the loop as the trail follows the flat doghobble and rhododendron-choked bottomlands to the west of Avery Creek. After this first half-mile the trail then starts a more serious climb as the valley suddenly narrows. Keep an eye and ear out below to the right as the trail soon passes above the seldom-visited Upper Avery Creek Falls. Frequently covered in downfall, the 15-foot cascade isn’t the most wondrous in the area but it’s still worth the quick scramble down to it as you pass by.
Above the falls the trail changes in character dramatically as it hangs off the steep slopes above the creek after-which turning to cross Avery Creek and begin its moderately steep attack of the ridge beyond. This is the toughest part of the hike with the route climbing nearly a thousand feet in the next mile-and-a-half. The scenery along this stretch is fairly typical of what is seen from woodland trails in these parts, alternating between short rhododendron and laurel tunnels and open hardwood forest. The climb along this stretch is steady but never overwhelming and you’ll know you’re nearing Club Gap as the terrain surrounding you and underfoot starts getting rockier. Club Gap marks the second potentially confusing intersection as four different trails join from four directions at a small grassy opening atop the ridge. Arriving via the Avery Creek Trail form the south the Black Mountain Trail is on the right, the Club Gap Trail drops off the far side of the ridge straight ahead, and the Buckwheat Knob Trail in on the left heading towards and under some nearby power lines. The Buckwheat Knob Trail is where the loop now continues.
The route now begins a gradual climb up the north ridge of Buckwheat Knob through, in my opinion, a rather ugly forest. The summit is crossed about a half-mile from Club Gap. In the winter there are some broken views through the leafless forest but in the summer I’m sure there’d be none. The next mile of hiking involves some steep downhill walking for a change as the trail heads south off Buckwheat Knob in the direction of Bennett Gap, where the Buckwheat Knob Trail ends at Forest Road 477. To continue the route now picks up the Bennett Gap Trail which begins directly across the road. The Bennett Gap Trail begins with a gradual ascent, soon crosses through a large open field with no views, and then heads out onto the narrow ridge crest where the highlight of the hike, Overlook Rock, is located. Overlook Rock, an unofficial name just so you know, is comprised of an upper and lower overlook located a short distance apart. The upper overlook is located about 6/10 mile south of Bennett Gap and provides the more open viewpoint of the two. Here is located a wonderful panoramic view of the forest to the west with the three famous plutons of Transylvania County…Looking Glass Rock, John Rock, and Cedar Rock Mountain…all visible. Continuing south another tenth of a mile is the lower overlook where a high ledge offers limited views east across the Avery Creek Watershed and a spur below the trail offers a stunning view up towards the towering nearby Pisgah Ridge. Both overlooks are worthy places to stop and recharge before continuing on with the final portion of the loop.
From the lower overlook the trail soon reaches a steep, rocky drop into Saddle Gap, where the Perry Cove Trail arrives sharply from the left. The route now turns onto the Perry Cove Trail to depart the ridge top. It doesn’t take long for things to get steep again as this lesser-used path makes its way down the steep eastern face of the ridge. It is a varied trail, however, as along its one mile length all manner of habitats are passed from open hardwood forest to pine groves, to rhododendron-choked creek bottoms. Perry Cove Creek is hopped across twice along the way as well. A bit over a mile after leaving the ridge the Perry Cove Trail bottoms out at Forest Road 5054 which you now have to take a left on to continue the remaining tenth-of-a-mile walk back to Forest Road 477. Then, once at 477, another left is taken to begin the final half-mile road walk uphill back to the Buckhorn Gap Trailhead and the end of the hike.
Overall this is a pleasant enough hike. Though it doesn’t sport the striking scenery (aside from Overlook Rock) that other hikes in the area do it’s still pretty and varied enough to consider trying out. That and, for an eight-mile hike in the mountains, it’s not altogether that difficult a walk granted you’re in decent shape. So, with that said, I invite you to come along with me as I complete my exploration of the eastern half of the Avery Creek watershed. I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this one, as I’m sure you’ll see. As always…please enjoy!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.316199, -82.754006
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: HARD
Hike Length: 8.0 miles Hike Duration: 3:15
Trailhead Temp: 55'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 2,390' Max. Elevation: 4,009'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,600' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 200'
Trails Used (blaze color): Avery Creek (blue), Bennett Gap (red), Buckhorn Gap (orange), Buckwheat Knob (yellow), Perry Cove (orange)