Big Creek Trail -- 2,540'

Big Creek Trail (Lower)

The Big Creek Trail is a somewhat remote footpath which runs from near the Trace Ridge Trailhead up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Pisgah National Forest. Due to its length of around five miles and the lack of connecting trails and a decent amount of elevation gain along its upper half the Big Creek Trail is a difficult one to complete all in one outing on a single day. Due to this fact I decided to split hiking this trail into two separate trips, the first of which is described in this album where I’d be exploring the lower, and less-strenuous, portion of the trail. Big Creek, for which the path is named, is one of the major tributaries which forms the North Fork Mills River. Originating high up along the Pisgah Ridge, Big Creek drains the deep valley located between Laurel Mountain and Big Ridge and terminates at its junction with Fletcher Creek where a small dam creates the tiny reservoir which supplies the nearby town of Hendersonville. This hike along the lower portion of the trail would begin and end at the busy Trace Ridge Trailhead, popular with dayhikers and bikers alike. To get to the eastern end of the Big Creek Trail requires a 1.5-mile approach walk along Forest Service Road 142 and a short section of the Spencer Branch Trail. As an out-and-back variety hike this trip might not appeal to everyone (including myself most times) but it’s still an enjoyable one as it follows alongside its pristine namesake creek much of the way…providing for an enjoyable travelling companion in both directions of the walk.

As stated the hike would begin from the Trace Ridge Trailhead, located a short distance north of the North Mills River Recreation Area. Forest Service Road 142 bears left from the north side of the parking area beyond a locked metal gate. The first ¾-mile is all downhill as the road drops down towards the North Fork Mills River. After passing the North Mills River Trail on the left the road then climbs briefly, drops again, and then soon passes alongside a large open field. Just beyond the field the road passes the south end of the Fletcher Creek Trail on the right and then, at about the 1.5-mile mark, reaches the junction with the Spencer Branch Trail also on the right. Just ahead through the trees you should be able to make out the reservoir dam at this point. Turning uphill onto the Spencer Branch Trail the climb is steep at first but soon levels out before dropping slightly to the unsigned junction with the east end of the Big Creek Trail barely 200-yards later. From the Spencer Branch Trail the Big Creek Trail switches back sharply down the slope to a short crossing of Fletcher Creek via a narrow log bridge. Beyond the bridge the Big Creek Trail begins its journey west through a tunnel of rhododendron alongside the west shore of the Hendersonville Reservoir. As the trail makes its turn to enter the valley of Big Creek it begins to climb moderately, and soon it’s far up the hillside to the north of the stream.

At first the Big Creek Trail stays a good distance from its namesake stream, with only a couple exceptions. Though your surroundings are fairly uniform along this stretch the forest is still beautiful and there is a wonderful sense of remoteness to be enjoyed after leaving the busy road which led you here earlier. At about the ¾-mile mark, however, the trail drops back to Big Creek to make the first of four unbridged crossings. At low to normal flow the crossing should be nothing more than a wide rock-hop. If the river is up it’ll be an extended wade so just take into account you’ll have to make a total of eight of these crossings (if you’re returning the same way) before you attempt this first one. The trail only stays on the south side of the creek for a short time before crossing it once again. Perhaps a quarter-mile past this second crossing you’ll pass an unmarked path on your right just before crossing the small tributary flowing down from Horse Cove. This unofficial path is a connector to the Middle Fork Trail which can be reached by following it for about two miles. Continuing upstream on the Big Creek Trail the route continues its gradual ascent of the valley reaching the third and fourth crossings of Big Creek in another 1/3-mile. At this point the path is following the creek quite closely making for more interesting trailside scenery. At its 2.5-mile mark the Big Creek Trail veers north a short distance to make a steep scramble across Bee Branch and then, after another 1/10-mile reaches the point where it angles right to begin its steep final ascent to the Blue Ridge, another 2.5-miles and 2,000 vertical feet of climbing away.

This is the turn-around spot for this hike. Down towards the creek is a large campsite with a couple pretty cascades to be seen just upstream if you make the short scramble down to the water’s edge from here. You’ll notice another unmarked path continuing up the valley from here as well. This is another unofficial connector trail, one leading about 1.5-miles up to the Laurel Mountain Trail just to the south. At this point all there is left to do on this hike is reverse direction and retrace your steps back the way you came all the way to the Trace Ridge Trailhead. Luckily it’s a fairly easy walk and, thanks to the pretty waters of Big Creek being a companion much of the way, it’s quite a scenic walk to repeat as well. With that your tour of the lower half of the Big Creek Trail will be complete. Overall this is a fairly enjoyable hike…at least the trail portion is (walking along F.R. 142 is admittedly a bit dull). It’s a nice easy option for a hike in the Trace Ridge area where you’ll encounter far fewer other visitors than other nearby trails. I can’t say this is a very highly ranked hike on my list but, regardless, it’s certainly not one I regret being able to complete. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think upon touring the album. With that, I now present an out-and-back hike along the lower section of the Big Creek Trail of Pisgah National Forest. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:   35.420433, -82.656765

Route Type: Out-and-back      Difficulty: VERY HARD (Petzoldt Rating: 10.10 )      Hike Length: 8.6 miles      Hike Duration: 3:30      Trailhead Temp: 75'F               Trail Traffic: 10-25 people      Min. Elevation: 2,400'      Max. Elevation: 2,950'      Total Vertical Gain: 750'      Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 87'

Trails Used (blaze color): Big Creek (yellow), Forest Road 142 (unblazed), Spencer Branch (yellow)


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