Seniard Ridge-Case Camp Ridge Loop (12-2-18)
On this hike one has the opportunity to see five waterfalls, visit some lesser-seen parts of the Pisgah Ranger District and enjoy some stunning views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, all wrapped up in one moderately strenuous 8.5-mile loop. Named for the two ridges which provide access up and down from the Parkway, Seniard and Case Camp, this hike will, during the summer at least, be at times crowded and all but empty. The waterfalls included on the loop are all accessible via much shorter and much easier out-and-back hikes popular with families in the summer season. If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging, however, this hike might be a nice option for seeing them and getting your exercise fix. That, or go when I did and visit in the middle of winter. The handful of cascades along the lower portion of the hike will be much less busy and, if the Parkway is closed as it was on this trip, the walk atop the ridge will almost certainly be a solitary one. This hike is certainly a leg-burner but the effort, as you’ll see, far outweighs the effort required to complete it.
Starting and ending at the small parking area for the Case Camp Ridge Trail off Forest Road 475B, it really doesn’t matter which direction you choose to do this loop hike. I did it in a clockwise direction but, upon completing it, don’t see doing it in the other direction as any more or less difficult. Either way the first quarter mile involves a moderate climb through a tunnel of rhododendron via the Case Camp Ridge Trail. After that the trail reaches a junction with the east end of the Seniard Ridge Trail. Heading straight here will take you on the loop in a counter-clockwise direction but, as I stated, I made the turn west (left) onto the Seniard Ridge Trail. The Seniard Ridge Trail at first follows an old forest road before dropping off of it to the left at an easy-to-miss turn. Dropping down the side of the ridge the trail meets and joins with the gated Forest Road 5043 at a point about ¾-mile from the start. This is the very popular trailhead for the four waterfalls located along F.R. 5043…Discovery, Log Hollow, upper Log Hollow, and Logging Road Falls. In the summer this next half-mile of path will almost certainly be busy. Heading west the Seniard Ridge Trail now coincides with F.R. 5043 for the next 1.8-miles. A quarter mile from the gate it crosses the wooden bridge across the North Tributary of Log Hollow Branch. Just before the bridge on the right an unmarked trail can be seen ascending into the woods above. This is the quarter-mile spur trail up to Discovery Falls. It’s a moderately steep hike up to this cascade but it’s a worthwhile one, especially after a decent rain. From the first bridge the road/trail continues another quarter mile to a second bridge, this one over Log Hollow Branch. Just upstream is the always beautiful Log Hollow Falls and, ascending the hill to the left of the falls, is another spur trail which leads perhaps a tenth of a mile uphill to Upper Log Hollow Falls. Again, the short side trip to the upper cascade is more than worth the extra effort. Returning to the main road/trail continue west once more another half-mile and you’ll reach the South Tributary of Log Hollow Branch, where Logging Road Falls tumbles from the hillside above. This is perhaps the least scenic in the series of cascades on F.R. 5043 due to its small size and how foliage covers portions of it.
Beyond Logging Road Falls, even in the summer, you’re likely to notice a sharp decline in foot traffic The stretch of the Seniard Ridge Trail from here up to the Parkway is much more difficult and doesn’t really lead to or from anywhere of note, and so sees many fewer hikers. Just under a mile from Logging Road Falls F.R. 5043 ends and the trail reverts to a more traditional footpath as it crosses tiny Big Bearpen Branch and then begins its ascent of Seniard Ridge. This next 1.2-miles is a leg burner as the trail climbs nearly 1,300 vertical feet to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The grade is all but relentless, quite steep much of the time, and there are no real views along the way to break things up. Even so, I found this section enjoyable if anything for the solitude and the knowledge that I was one of few that bother to visit this tiny portion of the Forest. The trail emerges at the Blue Ridge Parkway about a half-mile north of the Looking Glass Rock Overlook. To continue the loop you’ll need to head south to the overlook. As far as road walks go you can certainly do worse than one along the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the day I visited it was even better as the parkway was closed and I had it all to myself. Between the Seniard Ridge Trail and the overlook there are numerous openings along the ridge providing the first sweeping views of the hike, mainly down over the valley from which you just climbed and then to Looking Glass Rock beyond. Once reaching Looking Glass Rock Overlook, you’ll enjoy more views of its namesake pluton and then cross the Parkway to follow the well-travelled spur trail a short distance into the woods to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This is the start of another wildly popular dayhike during the summer season as this is the beginning of the short, ¾-mile, trail to Skinny Dip Falls. The side trip to Skinny Dip is another worthwhile side trip along this loop hike, especially when the Parkway is closed as it was this day. I was all but assured to have Skinny Dip to myself. To reach Skinny Dip just continue straight at the intersection of the spur trail from the Parkway and the MST. It adds a bit over a half-mile to the hike but, as I said, it’s worth it.
After hiking back up from Skinny Dip the loop continues by heading eastbound along the MST. This next section of the hike follows the ridge along the north side of the Blue Ridge Parkway though you’ll rarely see it from the trail. There are some minor elevation gains and losses along this stretch (the most notable is the climb up and over a prominence known as Chestnut Ridge) but for the most part it’s just your normal run-of-the-mill ridgetop walk. There aren’t any open views but, especially in the winter season, there are nice glimpses through the trees of the 6,000-foot Shining Rock Ridge just to the north. Eventually, about 1.5-miles from the junction to Skinny Dip Falls, the MST once again drops back to a meeting with the Parkway just across from the Cherry Cove Overlook. The overlook offers up still more views of nearby Looking Glass Rock and is a nice place to rest a bit before making the steep return hike down from the ridge. Now the route once again follows the Blue Ridge Parkway a shot ways, this time southbound, for about a quarter-mile to where a simple post marks the point where the upper end of the Case Camp Ridge Trail is located. The trail drops away from the Parkway very quickly through a series of steep switchbacks. There is over a thousand feet of elevation to lose between here and the trailhead and it’s done over about 1.3-miles. The hike down Case Camp Ridge, other than being quite steep at times, offers pretty standard fare in the way of scenery. Higher up the forest consists still of a pleasant mix of hardwoods and conifers and then transitions to more of a pure cove forest the lower you get. In a couple places there are some nice views through the trees towards Looking Glass Rock, though these are likely better enjoyed after the leaves have fallen. Without any fanfare the Case Camp Ridge Trail crosses the eastern end of the Seniard Ridge Trail and the loop portion of the hike is completed. A short downhill walk from here, through a tunnel of rhododendron, returns one to the trailhead.
As I described in the intro, this is a satisfyingly varied hike. No less than five waterfalls to be visited, many awesome views to be had from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and enough effort required to make it feel you earned all of it combines for a wonderfully enjoyable hike. I wouldn’t recommend the entire loop to the novice hiker but, the nice part is, all the highlights included here can be reached on much shorter and easier hikes as well. I think I’ve done enough talking now though so, without further adieu, I present the Seniard Ridge-Case Camp Ridge Loop…as always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.331650, -82.797857
Hike Length: 9.2 miles Hike Duration: 4:30
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 3,180' Max. Elevation: 4,720'
Total Vertical Gain: 2,100' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 228'
Trails Used (blaze color): Case Camp Ridge (blue), Mountains-to-Sea (white), Seniard Ridge (blue)