Big East Fork Trail Route Map

Big East Fork Trail

The Big East Fork Trail is a beautiful footpath, located in northern portion of the Pisgah Ranger District, which runs for its entire length along its namesake stream the Big East Fork of the Pigeon River. It begins right alongside U.S. 276 just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway and winds south for about 3.3-miles to an unmarked junction with the Greasy Cove and Bridges Camp Gap Trails. The East Fork which it follows is a wonderfully wild stream, boulder-filled and containing numerous beautiful cascades, which cuts a 2,000+ foot deep gorge between the neighboring Pisgah and Shining Rock Ridges. Easy to access, the trail is fairly popular among local fisherman and families alike…particularly along its wide and relatively level first half-mile. As the trail pushes farther upriver, however, the wildness of its surroundings increases dramatically. The high ridges above press in more closely and the river itself becomes noisier as it twists and turns through numerous rapids and small cascades. Though there are a couple moderate climbs to be made along the way the trail is remarkably easy to travel over much of its length. From one end to the other, a distance of around 3.5-miles, it climbs barely 600 feet. This allows you to maximize your enjoyment along the river without having to worry about straining yourself too badly along the way. If it has a drawback, if you can even call it that, it is that the Big East Fork Trail is a wilderness trail which means that it is unmarked and unblazed along its entire length. I’ve heard some people say this makes it a bit hard to follow but after hiking it I really didn’t find this to be the case. With only a couple exceptions, particularly where the trail breaks out onto open rock in a couple spots along the river, the main route is pretty obvious and well-worn. It’s a perfect trail to walk if you really want to get out in the ‘wilds’ of Pisgah without exerting too much effort.

As mentioned before the Big East Fork Trail is accessed along U.S. 276 at a point about three miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway where the road makes a wide bend over a bridge of the East Fork Pigeon River. Just a note, the Big East Fork Trailhead is located on the SOUTH side of this bridge. There is a larger parking area on the north side of the bridge but that trailhead services the Shining Creek and Old Butt Knob Trails, NOT the Big East Fork Trail. So, starting from the correct trailhead to the south of the bridge, the Big East Fork Trail leaves the parking area alongside a large kiosk and begins a gradual descent towards the river. The trail pulls along the East Fork after passing a large flat area and, at about the half-mile mark, reaches a split where a short spur trail leads down to the right to a pretty cascade. The main trail heads uphill to the left here, making the first of two minor climbs away from the river up into a small drainage known as Rocky Cove. The trail crosses a small unnamed stream here with some small but beautiful cascades to be seen just upstream. Past Rocky Cove the trail once again drops down to the East Fork where more nice views of the river can be had. At about the one mile mark the trail breaks out onto open rock where the East Fork forms a tight bend. The route forward isn’t easily seen here but if you simply follow the edge of the river you’ll easily pick up the trail again where the open rocks end. At this point the trail once again backs away from the river as it seeks out a crossing of tiny Bennett Branch, which it does about a quarter-mile later. Bennett Branch is another pretty little stream with some nice cascades visible right alongside the crossing. As the Big East Fork Trail continues south it now stays away from the river for a bit before, at about its midway point, it reaches a large campsite where the sounds of rapids can be heard coming from the river below. A scramble path leads down to a beautiful and turbulent spot along the East Fork where, across the way, another tiny stream can be seen pouring into the river from the forest opposite. Climbing back up to the trail alongside the campsite and continuing south a few feet leads to another scramble path which leads down to another, more substantial, cascade.

This second half of the hike, as it departs the midway campsite south, has a noticeably wilder feel to it than what comes before. There are numerous places where one can scramble down off the main trail and enjoy the numerous small but powerful cascades which populate the river here. Rarely is the river ever out of sight along this stretch, and never is it out of earshot. It’s an incredibly enjoyable length of trail. Just beyond the 2.5-mile mark the trail reaches a spot which might be the most confusing of the hike. Here, where a truly giant hemlock has fallen down across the trail, the path seems to end. Open rock can be seen ahead. What you need to do here is scramble down alongside the fallen tree, hop over, and head out alongside the river out onto the open rocks. By following the edge of the rocks you should be able to easily pick up the trail again on the far side. Make sure to stop and enjoy the river again here, however, as it rushes past via more small cascades alongside deep clear pools. Beyond the open rocks the trail now begins a sustained, moderate, climb where it gains a decent bit of elevation along the ridge above the river. At about three-and-a-quarter miles from the trailhead the path tops a low arm of the ridge beneath thick rhododendron then drops to a large campsite which marks the trails southern terminus. Though I wouldn’t be following them on this hike two trails branch off from this spot, neither of which are signed. The Bridges Camp Gap Trail breaks left to continue up the river, while the Greasy Cove Trail continues ahead to a ford of the East Fork past which it begins a climb along its own namesake stream. I decided not to cross but rather simply enjoy the beautiful scene along the river here, at the confluence of the East Fork Pigeon River and Greasy Cove Branch. Here these two wild streams join while cascading over a wide rock ledge. It’s an amazing spot and a more than suitable reward for the hike to get here.

After a good long break enjoying these pristine surroundings, my trek back simply retraced the route of the Big East Fork Trail getting here. If you’re like me you might not relish the idea of backtracking but trust me, with a trailside companion such as the East Fork to enjoy along the way, you’ll hardly be bored revisiting what has come before. If anything the remarkable beauty of the river only adds to the enjoyment of the trail as mile after mile of mountain stream music fill your ears. The fact that it’s an easy walk helps tremendously as well. Before you know it you’ll be back at the trailhead reflecting, like it did, on what a wonderfully beautiful hike it had all been. As you can probably tell this is a trail I thoroughly enjoyed the Big East Fork Trail. It exceeded all my expectations. It’s a relatively easy walk, not too long for a dayhike, and boasts all the beauty out might expect out of a riverside mountain hike. This is definitely one to check out if you’re in the area. Even if, like most, you only do the first half-mile or so I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. With that said I’m happy to present my walk along the wonderful Big East Fork Trail of Pisgah National Forest…as always, I hope you enjoy!!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.364923, -82.817569

Route Type:  Out-and-back       Difficulty:  HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  8.60 )

Hike Length:  7.4 miles                Hike Duration:  3:30

Trailhead Temp:  35'F                  Trail Traffic:  1-5 people

Min. Elevation:  3,380'                  Max. Elevation:  3,980'

Total Vertical Gain:  700'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  95'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Big East Fork Trail (unblazed)


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