Black Mountain & Turkeypen Gap Hike Route Map

Black Mountain & Turkeypen Gap Trails

This one is a doozy, I’ll share that much right up front. It combines the hardest portion of the busy Black Mountain Trail with an undulating ridge walk along the length of the lightly trafficked Turkeypen Gap Trail. This is also a point-to-point hike, so you’ll need to phone a friend to join you or drop you off on this one as well. If you like trees and solitude then you’ll enjoy this one, at least once you’re on the Turkeypen Gap Trail. The photo used as the cover photo is from a wonderful lookout I included on this hike to add some visual stimulus but it adds another mile of hiking to an already tiring day. The main route connects the Black Mountain Trailhead off Highway US-276 with the Turkey Pen Trailhead to the east. Along the way it makes the long, arduous climb up the south side of Black Mountain itself…you’ll gain over a half-mile of vertical right out of the gate on this stretch. Then you’ll turn east for what arguably might be considered the “easier” half of the hike but take that with a grain of salt. Even though from one end of the trail to the other you’re on a general downhill trajectory the numerous minor summits you have to cross on the way add another 1,000+ feet of climbing. It’s a workout, to be sure, but I found it to be a rewarding one as I hope you’ll appreciate after looking through the album.

After dropping off one vehicle at the Turkey Pen Trailhead you’ll then head over to begin the trek from the Black Mountain Trailhead just south of the Pisgah Ranger Station & Visitor Center. This spot marks the southern end of the busy Black Mountain Trail which departs the parking area through a small grassy clearing. After a short flat-ish stretch as the trail enters the forest the Black Mountain Trail veers left at a wide right-hand bend up from which the lower end of the Thrift Cove Trail begins. The ascent begins immediately, following and crossing the small stream draining Thrift Cove, and getting gradually steeper as it goes. Odds are you’ll get a feel for the traffic you’ll be encountering the first half of the hike as well…namely bike traffic. The Black Mountain Trail is one of the more popular among biers in the area so this is definitely a path to be aware of sounds approaching from above as to avoid getting run down by accident. About a mile later you pass the upper end of the Thrift Cove Trail. Past this junction the long forested climb continues. There’s not much to mark your progress until, in about another mile, you crest Hickory Knob where the first small bit of flat ground can be enjoyed for a moment. After Hickory Knob the Black Mountain Trail begins a short-lived but moderately steep descent to Pressley Gap before resuming its climb once again. There’s another mile and nearly a thousand feet of climbing to go yet at this point before meeting the Turkeypen Gap Trail, much of it up heavily eroded and unsightly trail I’m afraid.

Congratulate yourself upon reaching the Turkeypen Gap Trail, 3.5-miles after setting out, as you have successfully completed the longest and most arduous climb of the day. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking the workout is over, though. At the Turkeypen Gap Trail junction you now have a choice. You can either continue the main route by turning right on said trail or you can continue straight for another half-mile on the Black Mountain Trail to reach the overlook mentioned earlier. I highly recommend the extra effort it takes to visit the overlook but just note it will add about a mile and 400-feet of climbing to an already long day. If you do decide to head to the overlook you’ll soon top out just below the summit of Black Mountain before descending onto the narrow and rugged ridge connecting it to nearby Clawhammer Mountain. A limited viewpoint is passed just as the ridge gets to be its narrowest, beyond which the trail makes a few steep pitches down and around some rhododendron covered ledges. The main viewpoint can’t be missed. It lies just to the left of the trail at a wide opening and faces west. The panorama from the overlook is jaw-dropping, with the Avery Creek Valley in the foreground and the towering Shining Rock and Pisgah Ridges rising beyond to elevations well over 6,000-feet. Pisgah's famous trio of plutons can also be seen here...those being Looking Glass Rock (3,969'), John Rock (3,320'), and Cedar Rock Mountain (4,056'). It’s a wonderful spot to reinvigorate you for the remaining portion of the hike.

After backtracking the half-mile to the Turkeypen Gap Trail you’ll now turn east on that trail for an extended downhill walk off Black Mountain onto Turkeypen Ridge. It’s immediately apparent, especially in the summer, that this is a MUCH more lightly traveled footpath than the Black Mountain Trail was. During the growing season the traffic it sees is just barely enough to keep the path free of plant life. The remaining 5.5-miles of the hike doesn’t vary much in terms of scenery. The only real way to monitor your progress is by keeping a close eye on your map as you cross over and through the numerous unremarkable knobs and gaps along the way. As mentioned earlier you’re on a general downhill trajectory now but the numerous minor climbs along the way start to add up, especially now that the days’ mileage is adding up as well. At ¾-mile from the Black Mountain Trail you’ll pass through Muleshoe Gap, at 1.4-miles Deep Gap is reached, at 2-miles is Poplar Lick Gap, then there’s a steep climb of McCall Mountain at 2.3-miles, before reaching the next major trail junction at the 3-mile mark at Wagon Road Gap. Here the like-named Wagon Road Gap Trail drops off the north side of the ridge in the direction of the South Fork Mills River, a bit over a half-mile distant. Continuing east from Wagon Road Gap there’s now only 2.5-miles of trail left but it’s a tough 2.5-miles. The main reason for this is there’s a particularly steep sided summit known as Sharpy Mountain that you’ll have to cross along the way. Though it only involves a 500-foot climb to get there, over the course of the next mile, the mileage and vertical you’ve already logged will likely make it feel like twice that. The summit of Sharpy is, well, sharp…though with no views and almost immediately after cresting the peak the trail now begins a brutal descent, involving some of the steepest grades of the day, into Simpson Gap. The end is figuratively in sight by this point, however, as you’ll make one more minor climb before an extended and more gradual descent ending at the Turkey Pen Trailhead…and the end of this particular adventure.

Overall, I admit this hike won’t be for everyone. The difficulty-to-scenery scale isn’t really tipped in its favor. Unless a long, strenuous walk through the woods is something that excites you. To truly enjoy this hike you have to be able to appreciate the subtle beauty of the woodlands, the solitude afforded on the latter half of the hike, and be someone with more than a little determination. If that’s you, this will be a wonderful dayhike to check out…for the rest it’ll just be a good one to take your enemy’s on. As always, though, I’ll let the album speak for me and you can decide for yourself! So, with that all said, I present to you a hike along the Black Mountain and Turkeypen Gap Trails in the Pisgah Ranger District…I hope you ENJOY!!!

Black Mountain Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.283775, -82.722259

Turkeypen Gap Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.342374, -82.659208

Route Type:  Point-to-point + spur

Difficulty:  EXTREME  (Petzoldt Rating:  16.60 )

Hike Length:  10.6 miles              Hike Duration:  4:30

Trailhead Temp:  70'F                 Trail Traffic:  25-50 people (ALL on Black Mountain Trail)

Min. Elevation:  2,150'                  Max. Elevation:  4,220'

Total Vertical Gain:  3,000'          Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  283'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Black Mountain (white), Turkeypen Gap (blue)


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