Coontree Loop Trail
Coontree Trail is a 3.7 mile loop that offers a lot of diversity for the hiker. The trail goes through thick rhododendron areas, areas with deciduous trees, hemlocks, along streamsides, as well as along a ridge allowing distance views off to both the left and right of the ridge. The hike provides some serious elevation gain (1,200 feet) in a trail that is very close to Brevard, NC and also very accessible (the trailhead is right on highway 276).
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This shows the profile without going to the overlook. Going to the overlook adds in another 1.2 miles and 200 more feet of climbing.
The trailhead for this loop hike is on highway 276, 4.9 miles north of the intersection of highways 276/280/64 east of Brevard, NC. The parking area is on the left side of the road (if coming from Brevard) and the trail begins on the other side of the highway.
The parking area is a popular spot for picnics and families, and there is a delightful spot along the Davidson River for playing in the water. There are also bathroom facilities here. While the parking area always has many cars present, most folks are doing the aforementioned picnicking and river play ... I've never run into more than a couple other folks along this loop.
The trail begins as a very flat, almost straight trail that follows Coontree Creek, and crosses it on several log bridges.
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After a short way, the trail forks. If you head up the left fork, you'll return by way of the right fork, and vice versa.
I generally head up the left fork first ... when you arrive at the ridge (1,200 feet in elevation UP from the trail's beginning), all your climbing is behind you. Taking the right fork first, gets you to the ridge much quicker, but once there, despite a lot of serious climbing already behind you, one still has another 300 feet or so MORE of elevation yet to climb along the ridge. Psychologically, once I hit the ridge, I sort of think I'm "at the top" and done with climbing. The time I did it in the counter clockwise direction, I was most discouraged to find how much climbing I still had to do along Bennett Gap Trail on the ridge!
Ascending along the left hand fork of Coontree Trail takes you through a thick rhododendron encased trail, very narrow, with generally a very steep drop off to your right down to Coontree Creek. The trail makes a couple of 180° turns as it winds its way to the top at Bennett Gap Trail, which you reach in 1.8 miles from the parking area.
Bennett Gap Trail follows the ridge line that goes from Bennett Gap, up and over the ridge line to Saddle Gap, skirting Coontree Mountain and descending to Coontree Gap.
Once at the ridge line, you will have climbed almost 1200 feet in elevation. You have about 60 feet more of climbing once you turn right onto Bennett Gap Trail, but from then on, it is all downhill (in some cases, very steeply downhill). Coontree Trail follows Bennett Gap Trail for one half mile, turns right, and drops off the ridge and returns back to the parking area.
However, if your legs have any climbing left in them once you hit Bennett Gap Trail, turning left and going another 3/4 mile (and another 200 feet of elevation gain) you will come to two of the most magnificent overlooks of the valleys to the north and south of this ridge. Your legs might complain a little, but your soul will thank you!! The images below show the views from here, taken in wintertime:
Back on the Coontree Loop, you get glimpses every now and then of the views off to the north and east of Black Mountain, and to the west and south of Looking Glass Rock.
Glimpse of Black Mountain Ridge from Bennett Gap Trail
The turnoff from Bennett Gap Trail onto the right hand fork of Coontree Trail is well labeled. You drop very steeply into a wide valley with vegetation very different than what you were ascending through on the other side of the loop.
Part of the trail goes through a large area of hemlocks, that unfortunately are showing the fate of so many hemlocks in our area .... dying from an infestation of the woolly adelgid insect.
This trail will bring you quite quickly back to the junction of the two trails, and a short distance beyond that, back to the parking area.