Little East Fork Pigeon River -- 4,450'

Scout Camp/Narrows/Little East Fork Loop

This was a hike that I had been eyeballing for quite some time. The numbers on it were daunting, however…which is why I had yet to attempt it. The challenge? Nearly 16-miles of walking and around 4,000-vertical feet of elevation gain over some of the roughest and most remote trail in the Pisgah Ranger District. The payoff though? Incredible views from atop one of North Carolina’s 6,000-footers at Cold Mountain, a trip along the remote and famous Narrows of the Shining Rock Ridge, and the chance to explore the wild and remote Little East Fork Trail and its namesake stream. Needless to say there was more than enough reason already to do this hike, I just wasn’t sure if I had the capability. Because of past injuries hikes of over a dozen miles, especially with extreme vertical, are a risky prospect for me. Now, however, the time had arrived. Over the previous year I had gone all-in on completing the Pisgah 400, a challenge created by the Carolina Mountain Club where hikers complete all 400 miles of trail in the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The Scout Camp/Narrows/Little East Fork Loop was one of two remaining treks I needed to achieve my goal. Thankfully in pursuing the challenge I had become increasingly comfortable with long-mileage days…I had, after all, logged around 600-miles in the past year. If there was any time I’d be more conditioned to attempt this loop, it was now. So it was that on a cool, cloudy fall morning I found myself standing at the Art Loeb Trailhead at Camp Daniel Boone…it was time confront a giant. What I’ve dubbed the Art Loeb/Narrows/Little East Fork Loop looks pretty straightforward on paper. The loop begins and ends at the aforementioned Art Loeb Trailhead at Camp Daniel Boone, ascending the Art Loeb Trail to Deep Gap where an optional (but highly recommended) side trip to Cold Mountain can be made. At Deep Gap the Art Loeb turns south and follows the crest of the vaunted Narrows before ascending Stairs Mountain and ending up at Shining Rock Gap where another side trip to Shining Rock is optional. Turning onto the Ivestor Gap Trail briefly the upper end of the Little East Fork Trail is reached which winds its way down through the western heart of the Shining Rock Wilderness back to Camp Daniel Boone. The plan was simple, the execution is another matter…as I’ll now explain.

The Art Loeb Trailhead at Camp Daniel Boone is a popular one. Though the camp is private property, access generally open to the Art Loeb without restriction. The Art Loeb doesn’t waste any time letting you know what kind of an effort you now have in front of you. Right out of the gate the uphill grade is a steep one. Though it moderates a tad after about a half-mile, the 3.5-miles of trail from the camp at 3,200 feet elevation to Deep Gap at over 5,000 feet is a grind even for the most conditioned of hikers. There’s not much of note to see along this grinding initial climb but, if you pay attention, one can notice the subtle change in the forest surrounding you as you travel through the transition zone from mid-level deciduous woods to a more high-elevation variety mixed with conifers. Once you reach Deep Gap you have a choice to make…that of weather or not to make the side-trip up to the summit of Cold Mountain. After the climb you just completed the addition of three miles and another 1,000-feet of climbing might not sound appealing but, if you’ve managed a clear day, trust me it’s more than worth the effort. If it’s cloudy you can obviously do it as well but you’ll probably have to be a semi-masochist like me to enjoy it. The Cold Mountain Trail is obvious as it departs uphill north from Deep Gap. It pretty much continues on with the same rate of climb you tackled on the Art Loeb previously. The trail reaches the summit ridge in about a mile at which point it turns sharply east to make the rest of the climb to the top. The forest here is one of gnarled trees and thick shrubs. Shortly before reaching the summit the first open ledges are reached with stunning views back down to Deep Gap and of Shining Rock to the north. The summit is reached rather unexpectedly as the trail pops through a thick hedge into the open beside a large rock adorned with an official USGS summit benchmark. The views here face south and are absolutely stunning. Cold Mountains incredibly steep south face drops away over a half-mile beneath you while the massive bulk of Shining Rock and it’s numerous 6,000’+ neighbors rise beyond. The panorama is incredible enough but, in my opinion, what makes it sweeter is the effort needed to get here. You truly feel you’ve EARNED this summit vista.

Upon returning to Deep Gap you’ll now get back on the Art Loeb Trail heading south which, from the lower end of the Cold Mountain Trail, lies straight ahead. You’re now headed towards The Narrows. At first the trail departing Deep Gap stays fairly sane, only rising gradually. Don’t worry though, the good stuff arrives quickly. As the ridge quickly narrows and the terrain gets ever more rugged and steep you’ll quickly discover The Narrows are well-named. At about a half-mile south of Deep Gap a couple of open ledges are visible alongside the trail. Scramble to the top and try not to be knocked over by what you see. The crest you’re atop here is truly a knife-edge dropping away steeply thousands of feet to both sides. The view west looks across the deep gorge cut by the East Fork Pigeon River. Beyond, the horizon is dominated by the wall-like Fork Mountain Ridge and the massive Great Balsam Range. To the east the view is a bit more restricted but no less spectacular. Nearby to the south is the seldom-seen north face of Shining Rock while across the deep valley of Johns Cove and the West Fork Pigeon River rises the pyramidal cone of Mount Pisgah. The Art Loeb continues south through The Narrows from here, though primarily under thick cover of trees with no real views. At times the crest is barely wide enough for the trail and, where things get a bit too rugged at the top the trail will from time to time dip off the side briefly. This is an extremely slow going stretch of trail so be prepared. After about a mile you’ll reach the south end of The Narrows as the Art Loeb now begins a sustained, moderately steep climb over the top of Stairs Mountain. There’s no reward at the top of Stairs as it’s thickly wooded…other than the fact that you can now enjoy the fact that the vast majority of the days climbing is now behind you. The trail drops steeply off the south side of Stairs Mountain to Crawford Creek Gap and then begins a very easy ascent around the south side of Shining Rock to the major trail junction at Shining Rock Gap.

Say farewell to the Art Loeb now, which crosses the open gap from the northwest to southeast. If you’re making the side trip to Shining Rock cross the gap and make the sharp left onto the unmarked Old Butt Knob Trail. The trip to the summit will add about a mile and 300-feet of climbing to your total. I skipped it on my hike due to clouds but it’s a highly recommended option on clear days as the views from the white quartz outcrops above is stunning. To continue on the loop you now need to veer onto the Ivestor Gap Trail which, from where you emerged on the Art Loeb at Shining Rock Gap, is the trail continuing straight-right. A flat-to-gently-descending half-mile is now enjoyed until, at the point where the Ivestor Gap Trail makes a long curve around a shoulder of the ridge, the Little East Fork Trail breaks right into the forest. There’s no trail sign denoting the junction so make sure to keep your eyes sharply peeled…if you do, you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting it. Starting out at a gentle downhill grade, the Little East Fork Trail is immediately noticeable as a less-frequented hiking path. The trail is narrow and nearly overgrown in places during the warmer seasons but, as it follows the route of an old forest road is quite easy to follow. The first mile winds gradually downward along the side of the ridge before, at the first of a series of tight switchbacks, it gets serious about dropping down to the valley. Over the next 1.5 miles, until the path reaches the Little East Fork Pigeon River, it drops nearly 1,000-feet. Luckily the steep downhill walk never gets too out of control since at one time this WAS a road. The one and only crossing the Little East Fork Trail makes of its namesake comes at a point about 2.5-miles below the Ivestor Gap Trail or, alternately, around three miles above Camp Daniel Boone. At normal flow the stream is a wide rock hop. I had little trouble getting across dry on my visit. Of course a good rain could change stream conditions quickly and, since there’d be no option to turn back at this point in the loop, you’ll want to be prepared if you do have to get wet. After crossing the Little East Fork the trail remains moderately steep as it descends along and above the west side of the river. There are numerous pretty cascades to be seen from the trail along this stretch…many that beg exploring if you have the time and energy still at this point. A few small tributaries are crossed as the trail winds down the narrow valley but all involve no more than a short hop to cross. As you near the camp the terrain flattens out and, shortly thereafter, a cluster of cabins appear through the trees ahead. The Little East Fork breaks free from the trees beside them at the official lower terminus of the path. From this point simply follow the camp road straight ahead for another 1/3-mile and before you know it you’ll cross a short bridge on the other side of which is the Art Loeb Trailhead where your hike began.

This is an absolute classic hike in Pisgah National Forest. It’s also one of the most demanding I’ve ever posted on this site. You should absolutely NOT attempt this trek unless you are in excellent physical condition…and even then you better be more than a little determined. If you do have the ability, you’ll experience one of the most spectacular hikes to be had in the region. For me it was doubly special in that it only left me with one last hike to complete to finish the Pisgah 400 Challenge (see my South Mills River Trail report). This hike stretched the limits of my capabilities and, because of that, made its success even more incredible an experience. With the greatest of pleasure I now present to you my hike of the Scout Camp/Narrows/Little East Fork Loop. Lace up your boots tight and don’t forget your map…this is a GOOD ONE! As always…I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.387067, -82.895694


Route Type:  Loop + spur           Difficulty:  EXTREME  (Petzoldt Rating:  23.20 )

Hike Length:  15.7 miles               Hike Duration:  8:15

Trailhead Temp:  50'F                 Trail Traffic:  10-25 people

Min. Elevation:  3,270'                  Max. Elevation:  6,050'

Total Vertical Gain:  3,750'           Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  239'


Trails Used (blaze color):  Art Loeb (unblazed), Cold Mountain (red), Ivestor Gap (unblazed), Little East Fork (unblazed)


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