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Driving the Parkway from Asheville, NC to Mt Pisgah, if you stopped by Biltmore House and Gardens on the way through town, is a humbling experience. As you rise out of the city, George W. Vanderbilt's fascinating palatial home and the Robert Law Olmstead landscaped forest preserve that surrounds it is tiny compared with what surrounds you today. This was once Vanderbilt's, too. On the heights of what is today the Parkway's multifaceted Mt Pisgah Recreation Area, Vanderbilt built a seventeen mile trail from his estate to a hunting lodge (the lodge site is on the Buck Spring Trail).
Including the vistas from the restaurant, front porches, and rooms at Pisgah Inn, from five thousand feet, the views over the Pisgah National Forest are as astounding today as they were in the late 1800s.
Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Forest
Expect cool nights, because the campground is the Parkway's highest. Rounding out the resources are a gift/craft shop, gas station, laundromat, campstore, and picnic area. This area includes three hikes, Buck Spring Trail, Frying Pan Mountain Trail, and Mt Pisgah Trail and Picnic Area Connector.
Mt Pisgah Trail
This trail continues onto National Forest land to climb to the summit of one of the area's most well known peaks, a classic Blue Ridge Parkway hike. Supporting the transmission tower for WLOS TV, channel 13, in Asheville, NC is Mount Pisgah's 5,721 feet summit, which is easily visible from most of downtown Asheville. Where 360 degree views await, the trail itself is a steep, rocky ascent through mountain laurel tunnels, and rhododendron, and Northern hardwood forests to the summit!
This hike is moderate in difficulty and is three miles in length. Moderately rough trail conditions. You start out at elevation 4,980 feet and finish at elevation 5,730 feet. Elevation gain is 750 feet. On the same trail, hike up and down the moutain. The Mount Pisgah Parking lot is the starting point for this hike. From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway south to the Mount Pisgah Parking lot, on the left, at milepost 407.6. The first parking lot is for the Buck Spring trail, park at the second.
Buck Spring Trail
You can walk from the Inn for 1.4 miles North on the Buck Spring trail, for those staying at the Pisgah Inn, past the old Buck Spring Lodge site, to the Mt Pisgah Parking lot, and then ascend Mt Pisgah. The Shut In trail heads North along the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Asheville, from the parking lot. Built as a mountain getaway for George Vanderbilt, owner of the famous Biltmore, the Shut In trail is the original path from the Biltmore Estate to the Buck Spring lodge.
Behind the large sign board, the Mount Pisgah trail starts at the back of the parking lot. You are in the midst of the high elevation northern hardwood forest and you are just shy of 5,000 feet in elevation at the parking area. As well as many other less common species, you will see some firs, spruces, beeches, maples and birches mixing in at times, although you will be in this forest, dominated by oaks, all the way to the summit.
550 feet are gained in the second half of the hike, so the second half is much steeper, in the first half you will gain about 200 feet. The hike is very rocky along the entire trail. Along the slopes of Little Pisgah Mountain, the trail begins a gentle ascent. There are some wet and rooty parts here as well. Still quite twisted and gnarled, the trees are a bit taller than on the top. You may see animals inside because some of them are hollow. As you wrap around the upper part of its watershed, in these mountains, the sound of a rushing stream can be heard in the valley to your left. In the summer the cool, high elevation woods offer a nice renewal even if you don't hike all the way to the top of Mt Pisgah, and there are wintertime views.
You will begin the more difficult part of the ascent after you gain the ridge between Little Pisgah Mountain and Mount Pisgah. Where the trail is moderately steep this is where many turn back, but if you don't you'll travel up the ridgeline for a while. Then you will hike south on a very steeply ascending, sidehill trail with some difficult rocky sections and stepups. Although it is still very rocky, almost one big rock staircase, after this the trail travels through a mountain laurel tunnel and moderates some. To get to the summit of 5,721 feet Mount Pisgah, the trail achieves a side ridge, switches back and then follows this ridge. You will pass through an interesting region of small beech trees, just before reaching the summit.
Mount Pisgah Trail
Ruining any feeling of being in the wilderness, at the top, you'll find an observation deck, and the transmission tower for WLOS TV, channel 13, from Asheville. On a clear day, however, the view is spectacular, and you can see Asheville and Mount Mitchell to the North and the Great Smoky Mountains far to the west, the Shining Rock Wilderness to your west with Cold Mountain at its northern end, the Pisgah Inn, the Campground and parking lot. Return to the parking area on the same trail.
Shining Rock Wilderness
Currently named Mt Pisgah after the biblical mountain from which Moses first saw the promised land, the mountain was named Elseetoss and what we now know as the Pisgah Ridge was named Warwasseeta, when the Cherokee were the land's only inhabitants. Expeditions, in 1776, were led into the mountains to fight against the Cherokee Indians. Presbyterian minister Rev. James Hall was accompanying the group.
Pisgah Ridge Flowers
Hall was reminded of the Biblical story when enjoying the spectacular view from the top, and named it Pisgah, according to one account. A different Presbyterian minister, George Newton, named it similarly in the early 19th century, according to another story. In a survey splitting Henderson and Buncombe Counties, the first recorded use of the name appeared in 1808. The National Forest which now surrounds the mountain and also to a ranger district within the national forest, carries the now official name.
Builder of the famous Biltmore Estate near Asheville, most of these lands were bought as part of the original tract owned by George W. Vanderbilt. Just below Mount Pisgah's summit and north of the current Pisgah Inn, which was to be his mountaintop hunting retreat, Vanderbilt also constructed the Buck Spring Lodge. From the first parking lot on the spur road to the hike's start, you can reach the lodge site by hiking 0.2 mile south.
Biltmore Estate Near Asheville, NC
Below the summit of Mt Pisgah, he constructed the Shut In Trail to climb the Pisgah Ridge to his lodge. Closely following the current Blue Ridge Parkway, this trail, is still in use today. The first forestry school in the country was established near the Pink Beds area, and later, much of the property Vanderbilt owned was eventually sold to the government to become the core of the Pisgah National Forest.
Shut In Trail
Vanderbilts vast holdings of forested lands needed to be managed. Accessible on US 276 South of Mt Pisgah, he, along with forest manager Gifford Pinchot and his landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmstead, created the country's first school of forestry in the area now known as the Cradle of Forestry.
Cradle of Forestry
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