Cradle of Forestry Guide – 7+ Things to do

Located in the Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, the Cradle of Forestry offers hiking trails, educational opportunities for the whole family, historic buildings, beautiful scenery, food, a gift shop, and more!

The Cradle of Forestry is a beautiful place to spend the day and there is something for everyone to enjoy, even the kids!   Let's learn more about this foundational and historic location in the heart of Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.

Where is the Cradle of Forestry?

The Cradle of Forestry is located in the ranger district of Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina along Highway 276, the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway.   The Cradle of Forestry is just a few minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway and a short drive from Brevard NC.  

What to know about the Cradle of Forestry

Barracks in the Cradle of Forestry

Visit the birthplace of forestry in America at the Cradle of Forestry.  The Cradle of Forestry is 6500 acres of national forest intended to preserve, develop, and make available to the public the birthplace of forestry and forestry education in America.

This historic site was home to the Biltmore Forest School, which was founded in 1898 by Dr. Carl Schenck, chief forester for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate.  This was the first forestry school in the United States.   You can walk the grounds and explore the original and restored buildings of the school.

The Cradle of Forestry is an educational, fun, and beautiful place to go on an adventure.  The site has many different things to do and see, that will educate you on nature, history, and culture related to the mountain forests.   If you are a photographer, the area has numerous photo opportunities.   For families, it's a great way to let the kids run and explore and even learn something.

The Cradle of Forestry is open from April through early November.  Opening day in April is a big event, that we highly recommend attending.

Admission cost is $6.00 for ages 13 and up, $3.00 for ages 4-12, and free for ages 3 and under

7+ Things to do at the Cradle of Forestry

With 6500 acres, multiple trails, many historic buildings, displays, and a forest discovery center, there is plenty to do for everyone at the Cradle of Forestry.

There are three main trails, all paved for easy hiking and walking.   The trails are accessible for wheelchairs and strollers as well, so everyone can enjoy a visit.

1 - Explore the Forest Discovery Center

Cradle of Forestry Discovery Center Firefighter helicopter exhibit

As you arrive through the gates, the main entry road will lead you to the Visitor's Center and Forest Discovery Center.   Here you'll find a welcome center, gift shop, restrooms, restaurant, exhibits, and the discovery center itself.

At the Discovery Center, you can watch the 26-minute documentary on the Cradle of Forestry, and see more than 15 different exhibits.   Two of our favorites were the firefighting helicopter ride, and visiting the forest floor, where kids can explore under the forest.

A special exhibit called "Adventure Zone" is both indoors and outdoors, and is designed for children and adults with autism to help them become more active outdoors.  This is a very hands-on exhibit.   

2 - Walk the Forest Festival Trail

The Forest Festival trail is a 1.3-mile trail that takes you through the forest and explores the stories of past and present with forestry.  The trail includes old trout structures, a farm site, an old logging train and locomotive (a Climax), and a portable sawmill.  You can even climb aboard the train and ring the bell!

3 - Walk the Forest Discovery Trail

The Forest Discovery trail extends the forest Festival trail to 2.2 miles and takes you above the Forest Festival Trail.   This loop is a scenic trail, that provides "woodsy views", and will put you closer to the forest and the surrounding mountains.

4 - Walk the Biltmore Campus Trail

Interior of the Schoolhouse

The one-mile Biltmore Campus Trail will take you through the campus of the original school where you can experience student life between 1898 and 1909.  The trail passes seven historical and restored buildings, including a beautiful schoolhouse, commissary, ranger dwelling, and student quarters.

5 - Eat at the Café at the Cradle

A real hidden gem is the Café at the Cradle, a sustainable eatery headed by Asheville chef Zika Singogo.   The Cafe serves many different handmade sandwiches that connect you with Appalachian heritage and culture.  

For example, the café’s veggie melt vegetarian sandwich is highlighted by a ramp pesto.  Ramps, which are an editable plant that grows locally, had significance in Cherokee and Appalachian culture, and are still popular with locals and visitors today for their strong taste and smell.

Their menu features many other sandwiches, all in the $9-$10 range, including chips and a drink.  In addition, they have a  variety of soups, salads, and even kids's meals.  

You can even preorder a charcuterie picnic basket that feeds 2-3 people and a barbecue basket that feeds 4-6 people.

6 - Have a picnic

Outside of the Visitor Center and Discovery Center, you'll find lots of picnic tables, and you can even picnic out off the trail at your favorite location.  Just be sure to pack out everything you pack in, and remember to leave no trace.

You can bring your own picnic or preorder a picnic basket from the  Café at the Cradle (see above).

7 - Attend Opening Day

Opening Day for the Cradle of Forestry is one of the biggest events of the year.  Their Opening Celebration has crafted, and historic demonstrations along the Biltmore Campus Trail.   There is also storytelling, traditional Appalachian music, gardening demonstrations, food, and more. 

Opening Day for 2023 is Saturday, April 16th.

Tips for visiting the Cradle of Forestry

Here are a few helpful tips to make your visit more enjoyable!

1 - Wear comfortable walking shoes. To really enjoy the Cradle of Forestry and see the historic structures and displays, you'll need to do some walking.  The trails are paved, but you'll want to wear some comfortable walking shoes.

2 - Bring Water - While the trails are easy, and not too long, you'll still work up a bit of a thirst walking around, especially during the warmer summertime.  Always good to have some water with you.  If you forgot, bottled water is available at the gift shop.

3 - Adventure Pack for Kids - If you have kids, be sure to pick up an Adventure Pack at the visitor's desk.   There is a scavenger hunt, guides, magnifying glass, a compass, and a few other things your kids will love.  These are free.

4 - Agents of Discovery App - Again, if you have kids, be sure to download the Agents of Discovery app before you visit.   The app is designed for the Forest Festival Trail, to complement the Adventure Pack.   The guide in the App is Agent Beaver, and the app is an educational augmented reality game for children to help them learn more about nature.

5 - Plan to spend 2-4 hours - There are lots of things to see and do, so plan to spend about 2-4 hours for a full visit, and that includes walking the two main trails.   4 hours is more for those that take the longer Forest Discovery Trail.

Barracks in the Cradle of Forestry

Things to do near the Cradle of Forestry

Looking Glass Falls

The Cradle of Forestry is located in the heart of Pisgah National Forest, and you'll be surrounded by tons of things to see and do nearby.   Including:

See our list of the top 18 trails in Pisgah National Forest and our Pisgah National Forest Guide as well.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.

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