Hike to Bursted Rock in Headwaters State Forest

Protecting the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River was initiated by CMLC and its landowner, former Congressman Charles Taylor, in 2009. The undeveloped property—the largest remaining contiguous private tract in western NC—is teeming with waterfalls, 25 miles of trout streams, mountain bogs hosting rare species, and more than nine miles of the venerable Foothills Trail.

Acquisition of phases of this land by CMLC and its partners the NC Forest Service and The Conservation Fund have d to the creation of Headwaters State Forest, NC’s newest state forest. The new Forest now consists of about 5,500 acres of publicly-owned and protected land. Partners are striving to add 2,500 more acres to complete the project in the coming years.

CHALLENGE: Hike to Bursted Rock in Headwaters State Forest

Primary Route: Foothills Trail from Gum Gap(Out & Back)

Hiking Distance: 5.2 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Trailhead: Click here to enter your address and receive turn-by-turn directions to the trailhead. GPS users may enter N35.1026,W-82.6914 in their units for the exact location of the trailhead. Gum Gap is a small dirt parking area at the dead-end of Happy Acres Road. IMPORTANT NOTE #1: Because the full length of Happy Acres Road does not appear on many GPS units and smartphones, utilizing these devices may be insufficient to navigate all the way to the trailhead. Considering entering the following coordinates for the START of Happy Acres Road: N35.1373,W-82.7073. From these coordinates/its junction with East Fork Road, follow the gravel Happy Acres Road 3.4 mi. to its end at Gum Gap. IMPORTANT NOTE #2: The final 1.5 mi. of Happy Acres Road is more rugged than most gravel roads. It is narrower and has several locations that require driving very slowly to clear the ground. However, this road is safely navigable by even small 2WD low clearance vehicles if driven slowly and carefully. IMPORTANT NOTE #3: the final 1.5 mi. of Happy Acres Road to Gum Gap is not suitable to be driven by 2WD or low clearance vehicles after periods of heavy rain. IMPORTANT NOTE #3: About one mile prior to Gum Gap, you will pass a sign for the South Carolina Watson-Cooper Heritage Preserve. This is NOT the trailhead; proceed another mile until the road ends at a wide dirt parking area at Gum Gap. IMPORTANT NOTE #4: If you are unable to access the trailhead/Gum Gap due to concerns traveling on this road by vehicle, you may substitute this hike with the French Broad River Float/Paddle hike (insert link).

Hiking DirectionsThis hike requires close attention to navigation. The trail is blaze for most of the route but is otherwise unsigned. The final several hundred yards of the route are on an unofficial trail that is not blazed or marked.

From the parking area at Gum Gap, leave the parking area on the RIGHT (when viewed from the direction you drove in) or SOUTHWEST and locate blue blazes, marking the Foothills Trail following a roadbed.  Almost immediately, the roadbed forks. IMPORTANT NOTE: Use special care to take the RIGHT fork of the roadbed shortly after beginning your hike. This turn is easy miss, as the left fork appears to continue straight ahead and is more worn/traveled. Be vigilant on this hike to always follow the blue blazes when hiking the roadbed that is the Foothills Trail.

After taking the immediate RIGHT fork on the roadbed, following the blue blazes after leaving Gum Gap, walk around a red metal pipe gate. Following the roadbed, climb gradually along the NC/SC state line following the blue blazes.  Continue straight on the roadbed, briefly undulating up, down, and up again until beginning a steep descent at 1.3 mi. IMPORTANT NOTE #6: Beginning at 0.7 mi., multiple unmarked trails and roadbeds intersect the primary roadbed that is followed by the Foothills Trail for the remainder of the hike.  However, most of these unmarked trails have been filled in from the dozer line created during the wildfire.  If at any point, the trail begins to dramatically shrink in width, you accidentally took a side trail. 

After the descent, reach Slickling Gap at 1.8 mi.  Continue ahead on the blue blazed roadbed, again undulating up and down briefly before descending to a saddle at 2.4 mi.  Look for a green unmarked post along the side of the roadbed; this is where you have to turn to reach Bursted Rock.  This will be the first road/trail junction off of the primary roadbed found on the left in more than a mile. Turn left and hike the trail/road briefly uphill to the ridgeline, reaching an old metal sign that has been nearly swallowed by a tree. At this sign, turn right and follow an unmarked trail steeply up the ridgeline. At 2.6 mi., reach the destination: Bursted Rock.  Due to the wildfire, you can see the face of Bursted Rock from the roadbed, be on the lookout for a large granite rock face. A dramatic view to the south is available with the sheer cliffs of Table Rock visible only a few miles away in South Carolina. A geodetic benchmark inscribed “Bursting Rock” is set in a granitic dome at the trail’s end. Return the way you came, still using care to follow the blue blazes of the Foothills Trail on your retreat to Gum Gap.Alternative RoutesThe turn-off for Bursted Rock can be reached by hiking the Foothills Trail 6.5 mi. from Sassafras Mountain. This section of the Foothills Trail can be completed as a shuttle hike with vehicles at each end for a one-way trek of about 9 miles.



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