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CMLC continued its storied conservation of the dramatic landscape of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge (HNG) in 2013 with the acquisition of the rugged northern slopes of Little Bearwallow Mountain. The tract is spanned by a scenic band of cliffs and rock outcrops—including the prominent crag known locally as Wildcat Rock—that are highly visible from the Drovers Road Scenic Byway (US 74A).
Additionally, the property also hosts rare natural community types including Rich Cove Forest, Montane Cliffs, and Carolina Hemlock Forest. More than 100 acres of the tract are within the designated Little Bearwallow Mountain Significant Natural Heritage Area.
Gerton landowners John Myers and Jane Lawson and Mary Beth Brock partnered with CMLC to complete this especially significant conservation project. Myers and Lawson worked with CMLC twice before—first on a conservation easement in the adjacent Hickory Nut Forest Eco-Community in 2006 and then to facilitate public ownership of the new Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead in 2012.
The tract not only boasts widespread conservation value for preserving biodiversity and natural scenery, its acquisition made possible the construction of a critical segment in the developing Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail, a hiking circuit that will one day link multiple conserved lands in the region. The nearly three-mile Little Bearwallow Trail, completed in its entirety in Summer 2016, ascends 1.1 mi. to the 100-foot Little Bearwallow Falls, 1.9 mi. to scenic Wildcat Rock, an 2.8 mi. to near the summit of Little Bearwallow Mountain.
The Little Bearwallow Trail was constructed over a period of three years by an assemblage of Trail Dynamics, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, North Carolina Conservation Corps, Carolina Mountain Club, American Conservation Experience, and the CMLC Trails Crew. Ultimately, by 2018, this trail will link CMLC’s Florence Nature Preserve to protected Bearwallow Mountain.
CHALLENGE: Hike to Wildcat Rock
Primary Route: Little Bearwallow Trail
Hiking Distance: 3.8 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
Trailhead: Click here to enter your address and receive turn-by-turn directions to the access for the trailhead. GPS users may enter N35.4734, W-82.3320 in their units. Off of US74A, a grassy parking area is most recognizable by a rock wall and stone chimney as well as a three-panel trailhead kiosk sign. The trailhead is also marked by a Henderson County Parks sign reading "Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead. Park in the gravel lot in front of the rock wall, making sure to leave space for other vehicles. The trail begins on the other side of the highway marked by a single panel trailhead kiosk. Please use the new crosswalk for a safe crossing of the busy Highway 74A.
Hiking Directions: From the trailhead, cross to the opposite side of the highway via the crosswalk and descend a log staircase just to the immediate right of the kiosk sign. Arrive in an apple orchard with a good view of the cliffs of Little Bearwallow Mountain on the slopes above. At the base of the steps, turn right and follow the perimeter of the orchard parallel to a locust rail fence. At the far corner of the orchard, descend another set of log stairs, cross a small stream, and reach a wooden bridge over Hickory Creek at 0.1 mi. After crossing the bridge, turn left (please respect private property; the trail that goes right is not open to the public) and follow the trail as it curves into a rhododendron tunnel and climbs gently on an old roadbed. After a short climb, the trail turns off the roadbed by veering left and climbs several more stairs at 0.2 mi. It switchbacks sharply to the left at 0.3 mi. and climbs steadily on the lower north slopes of Little Bearwallow Mountain. At 0.6 mi., cross an unnamed stream with an easy rockhop. After the crossing, the steepness of the trail intensifies and the climb is aided by switchbacks at 0.7 mi. and 0.8 mi. The trail curves around the nose of a narrow ridge and leaves private property to enter the CMLC-owned tract on Little Bearwallow Mountain. Reach the base of a stone staircase at 0.9 mi. at the edge of a boulderfield and climb steeply up the rock stairs to reach the base of Little Bearwallow Falls, following over a 100-foot cliff, at 1.1 mi. This falls can dry up during periods of try weather; it is most consistently running in the spring and fall and typical freezes over in the winter, making it a popular destination for ice climbers.
After viewing the falls, hike to its right to find the base of a steep rock staircase. Ascend the 130 rock stairs; when you pause to catch your breath during the climb, make sure to turn around and view Little Bearwallow Falls from this higher and more dramatic vantage point. Also observe the 200-year old oak clinging to the cliff, on the right, at about 40 stairs up.
At the top of the staircase, the trail levels for a short period before reaching two more rock staircases--which actually are descending--at 1.4 mi. Climb gently for another half mile beyond, passing a series of scenic rock slabs and cliff faces on the left periodically as the trail traverses the mountainside. At 1.8 mi., reach a junction with an unmarked trail on the right. Veer left to remain on the Little Bearwallow Trail; the trail on the right is a private trail and public access is not permitted. About 50 yards beyond the junction, look for a spur trail uphill on the left signed for Wildcat Rock. Because this trail is unimproved, pay particular attention to locate the trail as it is easily missed. If you start heading downhill again, you have gone too far; turn around and search for the spur trail back uphill. The spur trail to Wildcat Rock will be professionally reconstructed and improved in Fall/Winter 2016-2017. In the meantime, climb the narrow spur trail, passing a rock crevasse and climbing over several downed trees, to reach the base of the viewpoint at 1.9 mi. A short scramble up a steep slope reaches the top of Wildcat Rock and a dramatic vista of the entire Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. Return the way you came to the Upper HNG Trailhead.