Turkey Pen Gap Trail
Black Mountain Trail
Click on any of the images on this page for full size/full resolution pic.
This hike has intrigued me since I first noticed the trail’s route on one of my maps. The ridge that the first half of this hike follows, provides an almost direct route from Turkey Pen Trailhead to just south of Black Mountain's summit. Black Mountain Trail then does the same … making an almost straight line trail down to the ranger station located on Hwy 276.
I’d been on the first 2.5 miles of Turkey Pen Gap Trail a number of times over the years, going from the trailhead to Wagon Road Gap, which is the only place along the trail (besides the beginning and the end) where another trail intersects. This lone intersecting trail is Wagon Road Gap Trail, which takes one north, down into a beautiful cove and to South Mills River.
The first 2.5 miles takes one up and over Sharpy Mountain, an always memorable pull that takes you up 600 feet in half a mile (23% grade!). There’s just no way one’s muscles are warmed up enough that early in the hike to easily do that steep of an uphill!! But, as with any climb, the top always gives you a great view --- the photo at the top of this page was taken from the top of Sharpy Mountain.
Once you reach Wagon Road Gap at the 2.5 mile point, you have a relatively easy climb up to McCall Mountain, with a steeper, tougher descent on the other side.
This brings you to one of the nicest areas of the entire hike ... Poplar Lick Gap. This gap is right on the upper edge of a gorgeous, wide glade that forms the northern section of the cove created by Sutton Creek (this is on the south side of the ridge). The area looks utterly inviting; unfortunately, this is one of two areas where private property extends pretty far up to the trail.
Poplar Lick Gap
To the north in this same area, there is either an old trail or more likely some animal trails that head down to South Mills River, just down stream from where Brushy Branch joins the river. (Looks like an inviting way to bushwhack down to the river!)
Following this gap, the hiking is very easy with little grade change through Deep Gap.
After this comes the climb up to Horseshoe Knob. From here, Black Mountain's peak is constantly in front of you, and the trail goes uphill at a pretty steady pace.
Black Mountain can be seen straight ahead
You come out on Black Mountain Trail, just south of the mountain's peak. There is a clearing there, that has a nice campsite/lunch spot. Water is available here, at two springs located along Turkey Pen Gap Trail, just before joining Black Mountain Trail. One, a flowing spring is located about five or six hundred feet from Black Mountain Trail; the other, more of a seep than a flowing spring is located about 200 feet from the two trails' intersection. Both are marked with a waypoint on the GPX track
Intersection of Black Mountain Trail and Turkey Pen Gap Trail
(looking north, from Black Mountain Trail)
From here, it is 4.5 miles down Black Mountain Trail to the Pisgah District Ranger Station on highway 276. Lest you think these miles are easy (hey ... it’s all downhill, right?? !! ), by the time I got to the last mile or so of the day, my legs were seriously in the spaghetti stage!! Pretty much a steady 10-11% downhill the entire way, with one 200 foot climb right after Pressley Gap, just to totally mess up your legs.
Black Mountain Trail ends at a parking area just east of a fenced in forest service maintenance area, and the ranger station is just the other side of that. A single track, level trail called "Exercise Trail" will take you from the west side of the maintenance area to the Pisgah District Ranger Station, keeping one from having to walk along the highway.
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GPX data for download: Turkey Pen Gap Trail to Black Mountain Trail.
This is an almost 10 mile hike, one way, and lends itself well to a car-shuttle type of hike. Driving distance between the beginning and ending points is approximately 7 miles. The beginning point is at Turkey Pen Trailhead, which is located off highway 280, about 4 miles east of Brevard, NC. Turn left off Highway 280 (if coming from Brevard) onto Turkey Pen Road. This road is right at the Transyvania/Henderson county line. Hwy 280 makes a 45 - 50 degree turn to the right at this point.
Turkey Pen road is a narrow, dirt road, 2.3 miles in length, ending at the trailhead. The first portion goes by several homes, and then enters Pisgah National Forest. The road traditionally has been very, very rough, requiring a high clearance vehicle to navigate. But recently (late 2010), the road has been improved, and at least at this time (March, 2011) is passable by any vehicle.
Once at the trailhead, look for the trail that starts with some steps going up the hillside on the left side of the parking area -- This is Turkey Pen Gap Trail. Do not head down to the signboards ... that trail heads down to South Mills River.
Turkey Pen Gap Trail is easy to follow, and blazed blue. Black Mountain is similarly very easy to follow, and blazed white. Note that Black Mountain Trail is a trail frequently uesd by mountain bikers, and because of the steep, long descent, hikers need to be constantly on the lookout for the rapidly descending cyclist. Cyclists in Pisgah are really, really great about yielding to hikers, but on this trail, there really is no way a fast cyclist could safely stop! Be prepared to hop quickly over to the side if needed!
Ending point of the hike is at the Pisgah District Ranger Station, located on Highway 276, 3 miles north of the intersection where highways 280, 64 and 276 all join (just east of Brevard, NC). The ranger station is open M-F, 8am - 5pm. Water is available at all times in the summer via a water fountain. There are also indoor bathrooms (open only when the ranger station is open), as well as a large covered porch.