Bent Creek - Lower Sidehill Loop
Bent Creek Experimental Forest encompasses a 6,000-acre tract of land within Pisgah National Forest just to the southwest of the city of Asheville. Established in 1925, it is the oldest experimental forest in the Eastern United States. The purpose of the forest is that of a providing a living laboratory to better understand and implement management, conservation, restoration, and sustainability practices. Thankfully, while important to scientific research, Bent Creek is still openly available to the public for recreation purposes. On the downside of this is its proximity to the Asheville metro area. The miles of multi-use trails and forest roads see some of the heaviest foot and bike traffic in the entire National Forest. It’s a beautiful area, to be sure, just don’t head to Bent Creek expecting solitude. What you will find is a fantastic landscape of heavily forested hills, trees in places of impressively large size, all crisscrossed by pristine mountain streams. On this particular visit, my final of four exploring the trails on the north side of Bent Creek, I'd be making an easy loop utilizing the Lower Sidehill Trail and a walk along Forest Road 479. This is another simple 'walk-in-the-woods' type hike where the star of the show is the ever-present and magnificent forest. There's no stand-out destination on this hike, it's one for those who just seeking a peaceful walk in what seems to be a somewhat quieter corner of Bent Creek Experimental Forest.
The hike begins at the eastern end of the Lower Sidehill Trail, which is located a few dozen yards up from the junction of Forest Road 479 and the gated Forest Road 479F. The first 2/3-mile involves a short climb and descent as the path passes over a low forested ridge. A couple wildlife clearing are passed along this stretch as well which helps mix up the scenery a bit. After this first section the Lower Sidehill Trail makes a dog-leg up Forest Road 479G before continuing east and quickly crossing tiny Yellow Gap Branch. Just beyond the crossing the loop portion of the hike begins. I decided to head around it in a counter-clockwise direction but it honestly doesn't matter. Staying on the Lower Sidehill Trail the route climbs alongside Yellow Gap Branch for a short time (there's couple scenic little cascades to be seen here) before climbing up around the ridge to the south in what is the steepest portion of the entire hike. After gaining the south side of the ridge the trail winds in and out of numerous little coves and through extremely pretty woodlands. Just before dropping back down to Forest Road 479 the trail crosses above another pretty unnamed cascade. I visited during a fairly wet period so it was quite photogenic. I'm guessing, however, during dry periods this stream runs mostly dry.
The western end of the Lower Sidehill Trail is reached where it meets Forest Road 479. To continue the loop you'll now have to turn left (east/downhill) and follow the road for the next mile. You'll know to start watching for the Lower Sidehill Connector when you pass the gated F.R. 479H on the right. The Connector will be just a bit farther down 479 on the opposite side. It's signed and quite obvious if you're looking. The Lower Sidehill Connector is barely 1/-3 mile long as it heads north along a rather wet ridge to its junction with the Lower Sidehill Trail. That completes the loop. Simply re-trace your steps just under a mile back east to Forest Road 479F and the trailhead. Beyond that, there's not much more I can say about this hike I haven't already stated. There's nothing really remarkable about it, which means it likely won't rate high on anyone's "must-do" trail list. I hiked it simply because I was seeking to finish up all the trails surrounding Bent Creek. If a simple forest walk is all you desire then this hike fits the bill nicely. If you're looking for something more exciting you won't miss much by skipping this one. That said, I invite you to join me as I enjoy a lollipop-style loop hike utilizing the Lower Sidehill Trail. As always...ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.475121, -82.640286
Route Type: Lollipop Difficulty: MODERATE
Hike Length: 5.1 miles Hike Duration: 1:45
Trailhead Temp: 65'F Trail Traffic: NONE!!
Min. Elevation: 2,200' Max. Elevation: 2,700'
Total Vertical Gain: 600' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 118'
Trails Used (blaze color): Lower Sidehill (orange), Lower Sidehill Connector (blue)