Lake Powhatan Loop (12-23-18)
Lake Powhatan is a small body of water located within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest about 10 miles from downtown Asheville. The lake offers a beach, camping, fishing, and miles of multi-use trail. Understandably then, Lake Powhatan is a busy place. To me this has made it a place to avoid. Were it not for the fact that I’m trying to complete all the trails within the Pisgah Ranger District I likely never would have stopped by Lake Powhatan. I figured if I must go I’d try a good cold morning, which I hoped would thin the crowds a bit. So it was, then, that I found myself at the Hardtimes Trailhead on a frosty Sunday morning. At first, it didn’t seem my plans had worked. Despite the early hour and the cold temps the parking lot was already full. With a bit of a grumble I set out…and within a few hundred yards was almost run down by a ten year old on a mountain bike careening out of the woods. I just about turned back for the car right there. I pushed on though and, to my relief, found that the further I pushed from the trailhead the quieter my surroundings became. Thankfully I stuck it out and I have to admit the experience was an enjoyable one despite the inauspicious start. Though I still can’t bring myself to recommend Lake Powhatan (the crowds are just too much for me to overlook) there is beauty to be had if you don’t mind the lack of solitude. I’m glad for the experience, if only to familiarize myself with a new part of the Forest, but save for the few trails that remain for me to do around Lake Powhatan I doubt I will return.
The plan for the day was to make a moderately long loop around Lake Powhatan and then also the southern portion of Bent Creek Experimental Forest. I’d begin from the Hardtimes Trailhead which, as I found out on this trip, is crazy busy even on the coldest of days. My walk would begin by following the old Hardtimes Road beyond the metal gate which heads downhill towards Bent Creek and the lake. About a third of a mile in I turned left off the road, over a concrete bridge, and then immediately right again onto the Homestead Trail. It sounds confusing but the junction is fairly well marked so, if you pay attention, you shouldn’t get off track. The Homestead Trail is a traditional path and begins an easy climb above Bent Creek through the rhododendron before, about a quarter-mile from the Hardtimes Road, reaching the dam at the foot of Lake Powhatan itself. The view here of the lake and the hills beyond is quite picturesque, I have to admit, especially on a calm morning when the mountains and forests surrounding the lake are reflected perfectly on its surface. From the dam I’d continue along the Homestead Trail a short distance farther, enjoying a couple more nice views of the lake along the way, before reaching the Small Creek Trail which I’d now be turning left onto. The Small Creek Trail is pretty unremarkable. The stream for which it is named is all but hidden from view by thick rhododendron and, at only a quarter mile in length, its over before you know it. At the upper end of the Small Creek Trail I’d make a quick right and then an immediate left to pick up my next path of the day, the Deerfield Loop. For the next half mile I’d follow the Deerfield Loop in a clockwise direction. Again, there’s not too much to say about this stretch. The scenery does change a bit with the forest sporting more pines but otherwise the going stays easy and fairly unexciting. Less than a mile and a half into my hike I’d now be making a left turn onto my sixth trail of the day, the Pine Tree Loop.
The Pine Tree Loop is well named, passing as it does at first through a forest of huge white pine trees. Heading clockwise around the loops south half the next mile of the hike begins with an easy climb, levels off, and then descends to the next trail junction. Here I’d make a left onto a short connector path which joins the Pine Tree and Explorer Loop Trails. Once at the Explorer Loop I would once again make a left to, once again, follow the loop in a clockwise direction. The Explorer Loop would involve the longest stretch of the hike on which I would spend a single trail. For the next three miles the Explorer Loop Trail winds out towards the southernmost part of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. This was by far the quietest part of the hike, lucky if I saw a handful of people along this entire three mile stretch. The Explorer Loop begins with an extended climb, but nothing too difficult, before leveling out as the trail follows the side of the ridge. At about the halfway point the trail then descends into a large drainage known as Chestnut Cove where it meets and follows gated Forest Road 479H for about a third of a mile where it turns right again back into the forest. The lower portion of the Explorer Loop is quite flat as it follows the northern edge of the Bent Creek flood plain. Before long it descends a bit then turns right to climb back to the junction with the connector trail back to the Pine Tree Loop, which I would now return to. Back at the Pine Tree Loop I’d now turn left to complete its northern half which continues in a fairly flat manner along the flat lands surrounding Bent Creek. About a mile later I’d reach the paved Lake Powhatan park road. At the road I’d next turn right, stopping by a pretty foot bridge over Bent Creek and then following the footpath which follows along the lakes west shore, past the swimming area, and back to the Homestead Trail. At this point I’d simply retrace my steps from earlier back up the Homestead Trail and then the Hardtimes Road back to the car. With that the Lake Powhatan Loop was complete.
Overall this wasn’t as bad an experience as I imagined it might be, despite the attempted homicide-by-bike in the early going. It was busy, though certainly not as busy as it could be during warmer times of the year I’m sure. The back half of the loop, while unremarkable from a scenery standpoint offered some nice solitude and easy walking which helped me forget the rocky way that things had started. The lake is beautiful and is a place I probably should have spent more time enjoying. So it was a good day. I still can’t say it’s a place I’ll ever find myself eager to return to but, all things considered, it had still been a positive experience. So, without further adieu, I present a loop hike around Lake Powhatan and the Bent Creek Experimental Forest…as always, ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.488001, -82.624397
Route Type: Stacked Lollipop Difficulty: MODERATE
Hike Length: 8.2 miles Hike Duration: 3:15
Trailhead Temp: 30'F Trail Traffic: 25-50 people
Min. Elevation: 2,100' Max. Elevation: 2,600'
Total Vertical Gain: 750' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 92'
Trails Used (blaze color): Campground Connector (unblazed), Deerfield Connector (blue), Deerfield Loop (yellow), Explorer Loop (yellow), Forest Road 481-Homestead Trail Connector (unblazed), Hardtimes Road (unblazed), Homestead (orange), Pine Tree Loop (blue), Pine Tree Connector (ublazed), Small Creek (red)