Turkeypen Area - Vineyard Gap/Bradley Creek Loop (4-7-19)
Of all the hikes I’ve done from the Turkeypen Trailhead, this one is no doubt the quietest I’ve experienced. Despite it being a pleasant 70-degree early spring day I didn’t encounter a single soul on this entire six mile trek. Turns out there’s good reason for this. This hike requires you to get wet. Along the way the route fords the South Fork Mills River twice and Bradley Creek four more times. At normal flow all crossings are fairly simple and water depths average knee-deep. Never will water levels be low enough to stay dry, however, so just be warned. If spending time in the water doesn’t deter you then this hike offers a pleasant and fairly easy tour of the lesser-visited eastern portion of the Pisgah Ranger District accessed by the Turkeypen Trailhead. There’s a nice variety of terrain to enjoy also, ranging from ridgetops to river-bottoms. It’s not the most visually spectacular hike on this website but I think you’ll agree that it still offers a simple and peaceful beauty all its own.
As the title suggests, this hike begins from the popular Turkeypen Trailhead just to the east of Brevard. A word of caution off the bat…please call ahead to the Ranger Office for current conditions of the road to the trailhead. At most time it’s rough but passible to passenger vehicles. After heavy rains, however, it is known to quickly wash out so accessibility can change drastically week-to-week. Calling ahead will avoid any frustrations. The Vineyard Gap Trail leaves from the mid-point along the east side of the Turkeypen parking lot via a short flight of wooden steps. The trail immediately begins a short, moderate climb to the crest of the Forge Mountain Ridge. Your surroundings on the ridge are typical of these elevations, consisting of mixed hardwoods with an understory of scattered rhododendron hedges. For this first mile-and-a-half the route bounces up and down along the ridge, cresting a couple unnamed knobs and passing Jim Gap at the mile mark. Vineyard Gap marks the easternmost point of the ridge the trail reaches, at which point it makes a hard turn left (north) to begin a steep half-mile descent to the South Fork Mills River. Nearly 600 feet of elevation is lost in this single short stretch of trail. Just over two miles after starting out the first ford of the day is reached. Simply head straight across the river. At normal flow this crossing is about knee deep. At high levels I wouldn’t risk attempting it. Once across the path peters out but just strike out through the woods ahead where, in a short distance, the bright yellow blazes denoting the Riverside Trail should be easy to spot.
Now take a right on the Riverside Trail. Within a couple hundred yards watch for where the trail punches through a narrow hedge of rhododendron to make its first ford of Bradley Creek. I was surprised at just how broad Bradley Creek is. Again, at no time will any crossing of the creek be anything less than a wade. The creek is a bit shallower than the South Fork but it’s still surprisingly swift. Over the next mile the trail remains almost perfectly flat as it follows an old forest road. It also makes three more wet crossings of Bradley Creek at 0.2, 0.35, and 0.95 miles from the first ford. After the last crossing you’ll immediately arrive at the junction with the Bradley Creek Trail, which you’ll now turn left onto. Initially, for a couple hundred yards, the Bradley Creek Trail follows right alongside its namesake stream before turning uphill along a tiny tributary known as Pea Branch. The next half-mile involves a steady, moderate climb along the north side of the valley. Unfortunately, due to thick rhododendron all but covering it, Pea Brach remains hidden much of the way. The Bradley Creek Trail makes another sharp turn, this time left, at its junction with the Squirrel Gap Trail. Dipping slightly to hop across Pea Branch it then makes a quick ascent to Pea Gap.
Beyond Pea Gap the trail is now on the descent again, dropping back towards the South Fork Mills River. A half-mile beyond Pea Gap it pulls alongside said river at the western junction of the Bradley Creek and Riverside Trails. The route now turns to follow alongside the meandering South Fork for another half-mile to where the final ford of the hike is reached. This is arguably the longest crossing of the day, angling as it does across the river. It’s no deeper than the previous crossing of the South Fork, however, so at normal flows the water is about knee-high. Once on dry ground again the Bradley Creek now follows the opposite bank of the river for the next third-of-a-mile, at which point it passes the bridge at the start of the South Mills River Trail and begins its final half-mile climb back to the trailhead. That’s all there is to it…nothing flashy, but it’s a pleasant loop through a relatively quiet corner of the National Forest. So without further ado, I present a hike around the Vineyard Gap-Bradley Creek Loop from the Turkeypen Trailhead. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.342883, -82.659210
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: HARD (due to multiple fords & occasionally ill-defined route)
Hike Length: 5.8 miles Hike Duration: 2:45
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: NONE!!
Min. Elevation: 2,380' Max. Elevation: 2,980'
Total Vertical Gain: 900' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 155'
Trails Used (blaze color): Bradley Creek (orange), Riverside (yellow), South Mills River (white), Vineyard Gap (yellow)