Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway

Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway

Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest

Length: 65 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours
Region: Smoky Mountains & Cherokee

The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway provides a great way to explore North Carolina’s rich forestlands. Begin following the byway from its northern end by traveling along U.S. 276 North from the U.S. 64/N.C. 280 intersection near Brevard in Transylvania County. Established in 1861, Brevard is the Transylvania County seat and was named for Ephriam Brevard, who drafted the Mecklenburg Resolves of 1775. A pair of stone pillars built to honor Transylvania County residents who served in World War I sits at the beginning of the byway. The pillars also mark the entrance to the Pisgah National Forest. The forest was established in 1916 and encompasses more than 1 million acres. A Forest Service Information Center is located about two miles from the pillars.

West of the information center is the Pisgah Forest National Fish Hatchery, which raises trout to be released in mountain streams. Just past the hatchery on U.S. 276 is the breathtaking 85-foot Looking Glass Falls. You can safely enjoy the view from the pull-off area. The waterfall is named for the mountain above and to the left, Looking Glass Rock. Its monolithic granite face gleams like a mirror from the water seeping out of the mountain across the stone. Travel about 2.5 miles north and pass Sliding Rock. In the summer, many visitors enjoy a cool slide down the rock into a pool under the supervision of lifeguards. A bathhouse provides a place to change clothes.

The Cradle of Forestry is on the right, three miles from Sliding Rock. It is the birthplace of scientific forestry and forestry education through the work of Dr. Carl A. Schenck in 1898. Dr. Schenck was the forest supervisor for George Vanderbilt’s 100,000-acre Biltmore Forest and founded the first forestry school in the United States at Biltmore, near Asheville.

Near the Cradle of Forestry is the entrance to the Pink Beds, an upland bog with a dense growth of pink blooming rhododendrons and laurels. About four miles from the Pink Beds, arrive at the first of two Blue Ridge Parkway crossings. The first crossing is at Wagon Road Gap. The gap was named for the vehicles that crossed the mountain on the trail from Brevard toward the Pigeon River Gorge and Tennessee. To the left is the Shining Rock Wilderness. Accessible only by foot trails, this primitive area is a unique natural treasure. From here, continue on U.S. 276 North for 14 miles following the upper reaches of the East Fork of the Pigeon River through rural mountain villages and farmlands to the community of Bethel.

The nearby community of Woodrow, just north of Bethel, was named for President Woodrow Wilson. Turn left at the stoplight onto N.C. 215 and follow the West Fork of the Pigeon River for 18 miles until the byway reaches the second crossing of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Beech Gap. Along this portion of N.C. 215, pass by more mountain farms and numerous streams and waterfalls. Six miles from Woodrow, is a local reservoir, Lake Logan. The community of Sunburst, located along the shores of the lake, gets its name from the swiftness of the sun as it rises over Cold Mountain to announce the morning.

About 8.5 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway arrive in the Balsam Grove community near Balsam Lake, which feeds into the French Broad River. The river was named for the French who inhabited the territory during the 18th century. The last eight miles of the byway parallels the North Fork of the French Broad River. The route ends at the intersection of N.C. 215 with U.S. 64 near Rosman.

To follow the Waterfall Scenic Byway, travel along U.S. 64 West from this point, or turn left and follow the U.S. Forest Service byway north to Brevard.

Please exercise caution and obey all rules and warnings posted near mountains and waterfalls.

Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

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