Barnett Branch-Buck Spring Loop
This hike definitely won’t win any awards for excitement. Requiring a lengthy road-walk and, for the most part, not passing any natural features of major note I doubt this hike will be one of the more popular that people try out after visiting my site. Even so, there definitely are a couple positive attributes to be enjoyed on this short loop. First, it’s a relatively quiet portion of the forest (minus, again, the road-walk). Second, it’s not all that difficult. The climb up the Barnett Branch Trail gets a bit steep but it’s short…and there’s a couple stops along the way which is the final highlight. This would be the pair of unnamed cascades which are passed along Barnett Branch. Though not the tallest or all that powerful, these two small waterfalls nonetheless help spice up an otherwise mundane hike. That, and if this whole loop doesn’t sound appealing, you can always just do the half-mile of the Barnett Branch Trail up to them from Yellow Gap Road. I knew ahead of time this wouldn’t be a super stimulating trek so I saved it for a dreary day, when clouds and rain would prevent a hike on prettier trails. Thus it was I set out on a rather wet afternoon to complete another small portion of the Pisgah Ranger District trail system. The hike would begin from the popular Pink Beds Picnic Area…though not so popular on a day like this one. Let’s go play in the rain shall we?
Starting out at the trailhead for the Pink Beds Loop, I began the hike by following the northern portion of said trail for a mostly flat 1.5-miles to the junction with the Barnett Branch Trail. This section of the Pink Beds Loop isn’t all that flashy, alternating six times between open fields and mixed woodlands and crossing a few small streams along the way. Catch it a few weeks earlier than I did, however and you’ll be treated to some truly spectacular mountain laurel blooms as well. This is one of the best trails in the area to see wildflowers…it is after all how the Pink Beds earned their name. Upon reaching the Barnett Branch Trail, take a left to follow it north. The next half mile is steadily, though only gradually, uphill. The trail alternates between rhododendron tunnels and open woodlands. This section can also be wet if you go during wet periods as I did. Soon, the Barnett Branch emerges from the forest to make a crossing of Yellow Gap Road (F.R. 1206) where-after it resumes its uphill climb. The next 1/3-mile is more of the same until, at the first sharp right you encounter, the first true highlight of the hike is reached. Here, just off the trail is the lower unnamed waterfall on Barnett Branch. Best seen during wet weather, this isn't the most impressive cascade in the area but it is still quite beautiful. After the lower waterfall the trail now begins the steepest climb of the hike as it ascends the ridge to its junction with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. A short bit of climbing beyond the lower cascade and you reach another sharp right-hand curve where, by following the edge of the creek upstream a short distance, you can see the upper waterfall on Barnett Branch. Honestly, I wouldn't bother though. It's mostly covered by overhanging shrubs. A half mile of climbing from Yellow Gap Road and you'll reach the upper end of the Barnett Branch Trail at the MST.
At the Mountains-to-Sea Trail take a left a short, mostly level, ways to where the trail makes a sharp left turn where it hops across Barnett Branch. Immediately after the crossing the MST breaks right up a steep bank while the Buck Spring Trail continues straight ahead (pay attention to signage as both trails, somewhat confusingly, are blazed white). The Buck Spring Trail continues via a meandering route along the side of the steep ridge. This is another mile of fairly uniform scenery. Thick hardwood forest surrounds the trail limiting any kind of view. After maintaining a fairly level grade the Buck Spring Trail makes a short, steep ascent and then abruptly ends at a large pull-off alongside US-276. At this point all there is to do is walk the side of 276 downhill, for 1.3-miles, back to the Pink Beds Trailhead. This is obviously the least pleasant portion of the hike as US-276 tends to be fairly busy. Take care and before you know it it will be done with. Other than that there's not much to say about this hike. It is what it is. So, if you'd like, I'll invite you to join me as I make the quick loop hike around the Barnett Branch and Buck Spring Trails. Though not super flashy I still hope, as always, you ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.353266, -82.778841
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: MODERATE
Hike Length: 5.3 miles Hike Duration: 2:30
Trailhead Temp: 65'F Trail Traffic: NONE!!
Min. Elevation: 3,210' Max. Elevation: 3,800'
Total Vertical Gain: 620' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 117'
Trails Used (blaze color): Barnett Branch (blue), Buck Spring (white), Mountains-to-Sea (white), Pink Beds Loop (orange)