Pisgah National Forest Guide

Pisgah National Forest consists of more than 500,000 acres of forest land across Western North Carolina.  Pisgah National Forest, established on October 7, 1916 contains beautiful, remote, and rugged terrain that provides some of the most spectacular scenery you can find on the east coast of the United States.

As a result, Pisgah National Forest is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking for recreational activities, including hiking, waterfalls, beautiful scenery, rafting, fishing, camping and more.  Pisgah National Forest is mainly hardwood forest that contains mile high peaks, whitewater rivers, waterfalls and hundreds of miles of trails to mountain bike and hike.

Updated: 5/4/2022

The land making up Pisgah National Forest includes a large amount of forest in Northern and Central Western North Carolina.   Pisgah National Forest is broken up into three separate districts, called "Ranger Districts".

Pisgah National Forest Featured Videos

Here are our favorite videos featuring areas of Pisgah National Forest from our YouTube Channel:

Pisgah Ranger District

Looking Glass Falls

The highest point in the Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest is Mount Pisgah, located at MP 408.6 on The Blue Ridge Parkway.  The Ranger District extends out on both sides of the Parkway from Mount Pisgah to Brevard, Asheville, and Waynesville.

Something many people don't know is that the majority of Pisgah National Forest land was once part of Biltmore Estate, and owned by George Vanderbilt (see history below).

The Pisgah Ranger District is well known for it's vast number of waterfalls, including: Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls, Skinny Dip Falls, Lower and Upper Falls at Graveyard Fields, Cove Creek Falls, Courthouse Falls, Moore Cove Falls, Turtleback Falls, Cedar Rock Falls, Upper Cedar Rock Falls, Grogan Creek Falls, and many more.

Please note that Skinny Dip Falls was the victim of severe damage from Tropical Storm Fred in August of 2021 - The Falls as people have known them for years, are now gone.

Graveyard Fields from Black Balsam

Highway 215 travels between The Blue Ridge Parkway and Highway 276 in North Carolina.   Highway 215 is full of beautiful and often easy to get to waterfalls, close to the road itself.   Waterfalls include: Lower Bubbling Spring Falls, Upper Bubbling Spring FallsWildcat Falls, and Sunburst Falls.

Popular hiking destinations include: Looking Glass Rock, John Rock, Black Balsam Knob, and Graveyard Fields.

The Ranger District is also home to the Cradle of Forestry, a historic area that was the site of the first school of forestry, Biltmore Forest School, founded in 1898.  The Cradle of Forestry has lots to see and do for all ages, including exhibits, historic buildings, an old logging stream train engine, three paved hiking trails, and much more.

The Grandfather Ranger District

Fall at Grandfather Mountain

The highlight of the Grandfather Ranger district of Pisgah National Forest is Grandfather Mountain and Linville Gorge.  This district runs from northern Asheville to Boone NC.  This area of the national forest features very rugged and remote terrain that is popular with rock climbers and long distance and overnight hikers and campers.

Waterfalls in this area include: Catawba Falls and nearby Linville Falls

Popular Hiking Areas include: Curtis Creek, Linville Gorge, and Wilson Creek.

The Appalachian Ranger District 

Max Patch - Appalachian Ranger District

The Appalachian Ranger Distract lands run along the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina, and lies northeast of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   The most predominant area in the Appalachian Ranger District is Max Patch, which offers high elevation and 360 degree scenic views, with access to the Appalachian Trail as well.  

Also included in this district are Craggy Gardens, north of Asheville on the Parkway, Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in North Carolina, and Roan Highlands, an incredibly scenic and popular area.  

Harmon Den, located off I-40 near Tennessee is a popular horse back riding and fishing area.

Hot Springs, a very popular destination known for their natural hot spring tubs, and for hiking is also included in the Appalachian Ranger District.

Hiking Destinations in this district include: Max Patch, Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail, and Roan Mountain

Waterfalls in this district include: Douglas Falls and Walker Falls.

Things to do in Pisgah National Forest

Rocky Knob Mountain Biking Boone NC

With more than 500,000 of forest land, things to do and see in Pisgah National Forest are nearly endless.   Visitors travel from all over to explore the trails and waterfalls, mountain bike on its mountain bike trails, kayak down its whitewater creeks and rivers, and mountain climb on its peaks.  

Pisgah National Forest also has numerous campgrounds, and remote primitive campsites, for those that love to camp.

Here are just a a few of many things you can do in Pisgah National Forest:

Hiking in Pisgah National Forest

Hiking near Boone NC

Pisgah National Forest contains hundreds of miles of hiking trails.  The famous Appalachian Trail (shown above), Art Leob trail and Mountains to Sea trail all go through Pisgah National Forest as well.    

Notable other popular hikes include: Looking Glass Rock, Rough Ridge Trail, Linville Gorge, Max Patch, Roan Highlands, Mount Pisgah Trail, and Graveyard Fields.

Pisgah National Forest Waterfalls

Pisgah National Forest, especially the Ranger District is FULL of Waterfalls.   Here are a few we've visited:

View By Location:

Avery Creek Falls
Avery Creek Falls is a small but pretty waterfall, that is good for families due to the shallow pool below. Learn More »
Big Bradley Falls
Big Bradley Falls is a 75 foot tall waterfall, located in a gorge near Saluda NC. While beautiful, the waterfall is difficult to reach, but viewable from an overlook in the gorge. The falls is about 30 minutes from Lake Lure, NC. Learn More »
Catawba Falls
Catawba Falls located near Old Fort NC is a beautiful and 100 foot tall cascading waterfalls, that is incredibly photogenic. The falls are accessible via a 3-mile roundtrip and moderate hike. Learn More »
Cedar Rock Falls
Cedar Rock Falls is a 20' tall and beautiful waterfall, located in the Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC. The hike to the falls is moderate, and 1.8 miles roundtrip. Dog and kid friendly! Learn More »
Courthouse Falls
Courthouse Falls is a gorgeous, and remote 50 foot waterfall surrounded on three sides by cliffs. The water plunges into a dark pool below the falls, and then continues down the creek. The hike to this falls is short, and easy at 1.4 miles roundtrip. The falls is located in Pisgah National Forest, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Learn More »
Cove Creek Falls
This 50' tall waterfall is located in Pisgah National Forest, near Brevard NC. The falls area accessible by a moderate 2 mile loop hike. There is a small sliding rock waterfall on the way to the falls. Kid and dog friendly! Learn More »
Discovery Falls
Discovery Falls is a pretty 75-foot gently cascading waterfall, located in the Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The waterfall is accessible via a short and moderate hike. Learn More »
Elk River Falls NC
Elk River Falls is a beautiful 50' tall and majestic waterfall near Beech Mountain and Banner Elk NC. The hike to the waterfall is less than 5 minutes and moderate. Learn More »
Grogan Creek Falls
Grogran Creek Falls is a stunning 20' gentle and wide cascade in the Ranger District of Pisgah National Park. It is one of four waterfalls viewable along a 5.5 mile roundtrip and moderate hike from Cat Gap Trailhead. Learn More »
Little Bird Falls NC
Little Bird Falls is a hidden gem off Highway 215 in North Carolina. This 20' waterfall is located in a short distance into the woods, and is both beautiful and very photogenic. The area around the falls is full of vegetation and wildflowers. Learn More »
Little Bradley Falls
Little Bradley Falls is an exceptionally beautiful 50 foot multi-tiered waterfall near Saluda, North Carolina. This gorgeous waterfall is at the end of an easy and almost two mile roundtrip hike. Learn More »
Little Fall Branch Falls
Little Fall Branch Falls is a 40' cascading waterfall, located in the Harmon Den area of North Carolina. The hike is easy, and the waterfall is beautiful and surrounded by lush green vegetation. Learn More »
Looking Glass Falls
Looking Glass Falls, located immediately roadside on Highway 276 near Brevard NC, is probably one of the most beautiful and popular waterfalls in North Carolina. The falls are visible from the road, and thus handicap accessible. Looking Glass falls plummets 50+ feet into the creek below, and is a popular summer swimming destination. Learn More »
Lower Bubbling Springs Creek Falls
A nice waterfall, located on a .5 mile roundtrip hike, just off Highway 215 and near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Learn More »
Lower Sam Branch Falls
Lower Sam Branch Falls is located off Highway 215 in NC, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Falls is one of three waterfalls, very close to each other. The hike out is only .5 miles roundtrip. Learn More »
Moore Cove Falls
Moore Cove Falls is a beautiful 50' waterfall that you can get in and go behind. The trail to the falls is very nice and short as well. The waterfall is located on Highway 276 in North Carolina, near the popular Looking Glass Falls. Learn More »
Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is a huge 150 foot waterfall, located in Pisgah National Forest near Sapphire, NC. The Falls are accessed via a moderate 3 mile roundtrip hike. In the morning, if the sun is right, a rainbow is cast across the face of the falls, giving the falls it's name. Learn More »
Sliding Rock
Sliding Rock is a popular and famous waterfall, due to not only being a waterfall, but a waterfall that you can slide down. The smooth surface of the falls allows visitors to slide down the fall, and plunge into a basin below. Sliding Rock is located just off Highway 276 in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard NC. Learn More »
Sunburst Falls
Sunburst Falls is road-side waterfall located along Highway 215. The waterfall flows under an old rock bridge on 215, and is a popular stopping point along the scenic roadway. Learn More »
Turtleback Falls
Turtleback Falls is a popular "sliding rock" waterfall, located in Pisgah National Forest near Sapphire NC. The falls are accessible via a 3.5 mile roundtrip and moderate to strenuous hike. The falls are unique as you can slide off the top, and then plunge into a large basin below. Learn More »
Twin Falls on Henry Branch
This is wonderful 4-mile roundtrip hike through Pisgah National Forest where you see three waterfalls, two of which are called Twin Falls, as they are very close to each other. This hike is especially pretty during the spring, due to the abundance of wildflowers. Learn More »
Upper Bubbling Spring Branch Falls
This pretty 30' cascade is one of two waterfalls accessible via short .5 mile hike off Highway 215 in North Carolina. Learn More »
Upper Cedar Rock Falls
Upper Cedar Rock Falls is a small (only 10' tall) waterfall, but still very pretty. The falls has a nice gentle cascade, that flows into a wading pool. Upper Cedar Rock Falls is accessible via a 2 mile roundtrip and moderate hike, and is one of four viewable waterfalls. Learn More »
Wash Hollow Falls
Wash Hollow Falls is very pretty and photogenic 50' waterfall, located along a short hike off Highway 215 in North Carolina. Learn More »
Wildcat Falls
This cascading waterfall is located just a short hike out Flat Laurel Creek Trail in Pisgah National Forest, near The Blue Ridge Parkway. Wildcat falls runs below an old concrete bridge that was part of the logging road and railroad grade that now makes up the trail. Learn More »


Pisgah National Forest Camping

Camping is a very popular activity in Pisgah National Forest, and the park provides a number of different options.  These include full service campgrounds, and primitive campgrounds.

Full Service/Hookup Campgrounds:  None

RV Camping (No hookups) Campgrounds (most have bathroom, shower and water access): Black Mountain Campground, Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area, Curtis Creek Campground, Mortimer Campground

Campground Camping (Tent): Black Mountain Campground, Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area, Rocky Bluff Campground, Curtis Creek Campground, Mortimer Campground, Lake Powhatan Campground, Davidson River Recreation Area, North Mills River Campground, Sunburst Campground, Boone Fork Campground (primitive, not maintained)

A large number of "Dispersed" and primitive campsites are located in Pisgah National Forest.  These areas include: Big Ivy, Black Mountain, Harmon Den, Hot Springs, Linville Gorge, Wilson Creek, Scenic River Area, and Shining Rock Wilderness.  You can find out more about these sites here.

Horseback Riding and Camping

Cataloochee Valley Horse Camp

In Pisgah National Forest you can bring your own horse, or take a guided tour from Pisgah Stables.  The forest service even provides two different Horsecamps, if you want to stay overnight: Harmon Den Horsecamp, Wolf Ford Horsecamp and Wash Creek Horsecamp.

Both camps provide access to some very nice horse friendly trails, with water access and scenic views.  offers access to equestrian trails in the North Mills River, Trace Ridge and Wash Creek areas.

Contact the Pisgah National Forest at (877) 444-6777 for more information and reservations.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is a popular activity in Pisgah National Forest, and climbing options exist for various skill levels.  Within Pisgah National Forest, three primary areas provide Rock Climbing options:

  • The Linville Gorge Wilderness area
  • Tablerock
  • and Little Lost Cove Cliffs

Of course, only attempt rock climbing if you have the proper training, guides and gear.  A fall from one of these areas could be fatal!

Pisgah National Forest History

Spring at Biltmore

Established in 1916, Pisgah National Forest was one of the very first national forests located in the Eastern US.  The new forest include nearly 87,000 acres that had been part of Biltmore Estate.  Edith Vanderbilt sold that land to the federal government in 1914.  

Over the years, through additional land purchases and donations, Pisgah National Forest is now more than 500,000 acres.

The Cradle of Forestry (previously Biltmore Forest School) is located in the Ranger District of the Park, and was the first school of forestry in the US.  The school operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The school was opened and operated by George Vanderbilt, builder and owner of Biltmore Estate.  Today these lands are part of popular recreational and educational center located on Highway 276 near Brevard NC.

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.

Want to learn more?

Check out these articles below