Middle Fork Trail @ Forest Road 5097 -- 2,820'

Trace Ridge - Fletcher Creek/Middle Fork Loop

I’m going to say, right out of the gate, this was one of my least favorite hikes yet taken in the Pisgah Ranger District. Were it not for my goal of completing all the trails in the District, I honestly would probably never have done it. A quick glance at the map and you’ll see why. Nowhere along this 10 mile loop does the route cross a highpoint of any significance nor any other major natural feature. There are a few pretty streams to be seen but nothing that justifies the effort. If you do go, you’ll definitely want a map. This is a bit of a confusing route to follow as well, despite most of the trail junctions being marked. Accessed from the busy Trace Ridge Trailhead, the focus of this hike is a tour of the drainages surrounding the upper reaches of Fletcher Creek and the neighboring Middle Fork of Fletcher Creek. There’s little elevation change to speak of, which is a positive mark for the hike, and from what I could tell it’s also a relatively quiet part of the Trace Ridge area which is also a bonus. Other than that there’s not much to say. This hike is quite simply a long, meandering walk in the woods.

The hike begins from the popular Trace Ridge Trailhead. Bikers outnumber hikers in this area so just be aware of that fact when you set out if you’re on foot. On the north end of the parking lot is Forest Road 142, which is marked by a sign and a metal service gate. The first 1.2 and last 1.5-miles of the hike utilize this road. Heading in the road drops the majority of the first mile into the lowlands surrounding the North Fork Mills River. In just over a mile you’ll pass alongside a large open field immediately after which you’ll arrive at a Y-split where the Fletcher Creek Trail breaks right, uphill. The Fletcher Creek Trail will be the trail you’ll follow for the next 2.5-miles. Departing F.R. 142 the trail begins a moderate climb up around the neighboring ridge, then starts a long descent to its junction with the Spencer Branch Trail along Fletcher Creek, at around 1-mile. Heading straight, staying on the Fletcher Creek Trail, you immediately make a crossing of the trails namesake stream (which could be a wade after a good rain) and immediately after that pass the junction with the Middle Fork Trail on the left. The path now begins to follow the drainage of Fletcher Creek upstream. Though it’s all uphill, this last portion of the Fletcher Creek Trail climbs only gradually for the most part. There’s nothing much to see along this stretch. The trail passes through two wildlife openings, crosses Fletcher Creek again, passes through one more clearing, and then terminates at Forest Road 5097.

Over the next 2-miles you’ll follow the gated Forest Road 5097 as it makes a long southern sweep around the ridge separating the Fletcher Creek and Middle Fork Fletcher Creek drainages. The first part of the road walk is a long gradual climb, the last half a long gradual descent. Again, there’s nothing of note to see on this section of the hike. Eventually you’ll arrive at the point where the road crosses the Middle Fork at which point you’ll want to watch for the signed upper end of the Middle Fork Trail immediately on the left. Turning on the Middle Fork Trail you’re pretty much doing what you did on the Fletcher Creek Trail, meaning following a shallow drainage, you’re just doing it in reverse (i.e. downhill). The next 1.5-miles begins on a bit of damp trail, wanders away from the creek, then turns back to rock-hop across it at a little over the halfway mark. It then follows the creek more closely for a time and then arrives at a split where the main trail goes left and a connector trail down to the nearby Spencer Creek Trail goes straight. Keeping left it’s only a few minutes’ walk back to the junction with the Fletcher Creek Trail you passed earlier. Make a right onto the Fletcher Creek Trail, hop (or wade) the creek again, and then immediately turn right to start onto the Spencer Creek Trail. You could retrace your steps back to F.R. 142 here as well but the Spencer Creek Trail involves less climbing and, in my opinion, is a bit more scenic.

Heading south on the Spencer Creek Trail you’ll almost immediately come to a ford (and it’s ALWAYS a ford) of Fletcher Creek upon crossing which you’ll meet the lower end of the connector trail mentioned earlier. Staying left at this split you’ll then hop or (probably) wade across Middle Fork, follow the west side of beautiful Fletcher Creek for the next half-mile, then make one last ford across it. After the lower ford the trail climbs a short distance, passes the unsigned junction with the Big Creek Trail, and shortly thereafter drops steeply down to Forest Road 142 again. At this point all there is left to do is make a left and follow the forest road the 1.5-miles back to the Trace Ridge Trailhead. To reiterate, this wasn’t my favorite hike. Aside from a few pretty stretches of creek, there’s nothing much to see but 10-miles of fairly uniform woodlands. Other than the distance, though, it’s a fairly easy walk. So if you’re looking for a fairly undemanding, yet longer, walk-in-the-woods-style hike then you may enjoy this wandering loop a bit more than I did. Perhaps a look through this album will help you decide. If you’d like, come along with me now as I make a long meandering loop hike around the Fletcher Creek and Middle Fork Trails of Pisgah National Forest. As always…I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.420433, -82.656765


Route Type:  Lollipop                  Difficulty:  VERY HARD  (Petzoldt Rating:  11.40 )

Hike Length:  9.9 miles                Hike Duration:  3:30

Trailhead Temp:  75'F                  Trail Traffic:  25-50 people

Min. Elevation:  2,400'                  Max. Elevation:  2,940'

Total Vertical Gain:  750'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  76'


Trails Used (blaze color):  Fletcher Creek (blue), Forest Road 142 (unblazed), Forest Road 5097 (unblazed), Middle Fork (orange), Spencer Branch (yellow)


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