EDITOR’S NOTE: Fourth in a series of articles on the trails of northwestern North Carolina.
If it’s spectacular waterfalls, views from sheer cliffs, wild trout or great swimming holes you want, the 7,138-acre Harper Creek and adjacent 5,708-acre Lost Cove Creek “wilderness study areas” in the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest are hard to beat.
All totaled, there are more than 35 miles of designated trails in the Harper Creek and Lost Cove Creek areas combined. Nearby, you can go paddling in Wilson Creek and mountain biking on trails designated for that purpose.
The Harper Creek and Lost Cove Creek areas of Avery and Caldwell counties, under consideration for federal “wilderness” designation since the early 1980s, are part of the Wilson Creek watershed. Both reportedly have pockets of old growth and virgin timber.
Designated a “Wild and Scenic River,” Wilson Creek originates on the “backside” of Grandfather Mountain and is a challenging kayaking steam. The Wilson Creek watershed was heavily logged in the 1920s, when the communities of Edgemont and Mortimer there were booming logging towns.
Especially if you’ve never been to this area, it’s a good idea to stop by Caldwell County’s Wilson Creek Visitor Center for information. Funded by state and county governments, it opened in 2002 at 7805 Brown Mountain Beach Road, Collettsville.
The visitor center is listed as being open year-round, with varying hours. Call ahead before going to check on possible closures, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. The number is 828-759-0005.
Lost Cove Loop Trail, a great 7.75-mile loop hike, starts out along Gragg Prong at a trailhead/small campsite on gravel Roseboro Road near the Roseborough community of Avery County. This is about 4.5 miles below the Blue Ridge Parkway near Edgemont.
The Lost Cove Loop Trail is part of the Mountains to the Sea Trail (MST) as it proceeds downstream along Gragg Prong, with cascades and pools in sculpted rock. Gragg Prong is believed to have been named for William Gragg, a Revolutionary War veteran who settled in what is now Caldwell County before 1800. He left numerous descendants.
Gragg Prong is designated wild trout waters and also is kayaked when it has enough water, which is quite often these days. You cross Gragg Prong four times in a distance of less than two miles before reaching where Lost Cove Creek flows into Gragg on the right.
At that point, the Lost Cove Loop Trail/MST turns to the right and follows Lost Cove Creek upstream.
Less than a mile up Lost Cove Creek, a catch and release/artificial flies only trout stream, the MST cuts to the left up the Hunt Fish Falls Trail to Hunt Fish Falls and beyond that to a parking area on Edgemont-Pinola Road. It’s less than a mile from Lost Cove Creek to Edgemont-Pinola Road. Hunt Fish Falls, with a good swimming hole, merits visiting.
The Lost Cove Loop Hike continues upstream along Lost Cove Creek for about two miles, passing notable waterfalls, more swimming holes, an array of wildflowers and pristine forest scenery.
Especially worthwhile is a short side trip to Little Lost Cove Creek Falls. The loop hike then makes a right turn up a trail with numerous switchbacks to the top of 3,000-foot Bee Mountain, climbing nearly 900 feet in less than a mile.
The descent from Bee Mountain to the starting point of the Lost Cove Loop Hike is about twice as long as the ascent but more gradual.
Just beyond the summit of Bee Mountain, the Timber Ridge Trail intersects with the Lost Cove Loop Trail on the right and follows the ridge top before dropping and intersecting with the Lost Cove Loop Trail again on Lost Cove Creek, just upstream from where it enters Gragg Prong.
Harper Creek trails
Harper Creek and its tributaries have many spectacular waterfalls, all in the shadows of Grandfather Mountain.
The 12-mile Harper Creek Loop Trail begins and ends on Brown Mountain Beach Road and passes triple-tier Harper Creek Falls. Especially impressive is South Harper Creek Falls, a 120-foot double sliding waterfall that can be viewed from the base, midpoint and cliffs.
This trail provides access to Bard Falls on North Harper Creek and North Harper Creek Falls.
Another great hike is the out and back trail to the top of Little Lost Cove Cliffs, with spectacular views of the backside of Grandfather Mountain. The trail starts on Edgemont-Pinola Road. It’s about 2.6 miles long both out and back.
There also is an out and back trail to Bard Falls from Edgemont-Pinola Road (6.6 miles out and back).
Work was supposed to have started this winter on adding about 10 more miles of mountain biking and hiking trails to the nearby Wilson Creek area of the Pisgah National Forest in Caldwell and Avery counties.
The U.S. Forest Service said the decision to move ahead with the expansion followed five years of discussion and assessment of trail needs by the forest service and volunteers organized through the Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance, a chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association.
The assessment identified a need for more connected mountain biking trails, said Paul Stahlschmidt of Boone, trail coordinator for the Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance.