Yellow Gap Trail Loop Hike Route Map

Yellow Gap Trail Loop

This challenging loop is located at the east end of Yellow Gap Road, near the popular North Mills River Campground of the Pisgah Ranger District. There’s nothing entirely spectacular about this hike but it does offer a good deal of solitude and just enough variety to feel like it’s a bit of an adventure. The first portion of the loop follows the route of old logging roads up through the lush woodlands common in lower elevations of the southern mountains. The back half of the loop follows the scenic North Fork Mills River, of which you’ll need to make three fords, to provide a change of scenery and a bit of a challenge. A few junctions along the way are potentially confusing, so a good map is useful, and the aforementioned crossings are best done during the warmer months when water levels are at or below normal. Elevation change is minimal and, for the most part, the paths are wide and easy to follow. This is a good hike for someone wanting an easy walk in the woods, but with a taste of something wilder.

The loop begins at the junction of Yellow Gap Road (F.R. 1206) and the gated Forest Road 5050 about a mile west of the North Mills River Campground. A number of large campsites surround the intersection and there’s ample room alongside the start of F.R. 5050 to park…just don’t block the metal gate. Begin the hike beyond the gate as the road begins a winding, easy-to-moderate ascent of the nearby ridge. Just a heads up…many maps denote Yellow Gap Trail starting at the gate. In reality, however, there are no blazes or signs marking it for the first mile and a half. Forest Road 5050 is wide and easy to follow, though, so the lack of markings isn’t really a problem. At the mile mark you’ll reach a large grassy opening and a Y-intersection. To stay on F.R. 5050 bear right and continue to follow the road as it now begins to angle down the north side of the ridge. In another half-mile, after passing through a couple recently logged hillsides, the road abruptly ends and for the first time you’ll find yourself on a traditional hiking trail. The downhill walk continues as the Yellow Gap Trail twists its way down towards the North Fork Mills River. The lower the trail gets the more washed out and narrow it becomes. It’s obvious from its condition that this is not one of the more popular trails in the forest. At around the 2.5-mile mark you’ll reach the north end of the Yellow Gap Trail at its unmarked junction with the North Mills River Trail.

To continue the loop turn right (south) on the North Mills River Trail. Within a couple minutes the first ford of the river is reached. If the water is up or otherwise looks dangerous retrace your steps back to the car as there are three more such crossings ahead, none of which are any easier. After the first ford you’ll be back on dry ground, but only briefly. In just over 1/10-mile you’ll be back in the river again at the second ford. Beyond this the next half-mile is dry. A third crossing is made halfway along this stretch, but it’s a bridged one. Shortly after the bridge, in a large grassy opening, the junction with the Trace Ridge Trail is reached. Continuing straight at this junction the fourth and final ford of the North Fork Mills River is reached in only a couple minutes. Though the North Mills River Trail technically ends here you’ll see another obvious path exiting the river on the opposite bank. This is an unofficial connector path back to Yellow Gap Road, about 1/3-mile away. The connector path is wide and flat so in no time you’ll emerge from the woods and make the right turn onto Yellow Gap Road for the remaining ¾-mile walk back to Forest Road 5050 where the hike began. Easy enough, right? That’s pretty much it. With all that said, I invite you now to walk the Yellow Gap Trail loop with me…it’s short but it’s a pleasant one. Also, as always, I hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.404416, -82.661047

Route Type:  Loop                      Difficulty:  CHALLENGING  (Petzoldt Rating:  5.40 )

Hike Length:  4.3 miles                Hike Duration:  1:45

Trailhead Temp:  75'F                  Trail Traffic:  NONE!!

Min. Elevation:  2,230'                  Max. Elevation:  2,780'

Total Vertical Gain:  550'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  128'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Big Creek Lodge Connector (unblazed), North Mills River (blue), Yellow Gap (blue/unblazed)


  • Kat MvQ

    on October 12, 2020

    This was an absolute TREAT. I've just been finding trails as I go hiking with my dog. I sometimes come upon unpassable routes as I did here in October with water higher than I was willing to strip for in order to continue. I wish I could find more of these trails that give great directions and even great photos. Thanks so much. Perhaps next summer I'll try again, Kat McQ