Coontree is a popular picnic area for familes along Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest, NC. What most of them probably don’t know though, is that there is a nice hiking trail just across Hwy. 276 from the parking area. It is very easy to get to, as it is only five miles from the crossroads in Brevard, NC. The trail itself is a loop with a connector at the top to the Bennett Gap Trail where there are terrific views of the surrounding mountains and plutons. The western half of the loop follows Coontree Creek and crosses it several times. This hike occurred on September 16, 2010 beginning at 9:00AM and ending about 12:30PM. The plan was to take the Coontree Loop Trail counterclockwise to the junction with Bennett Gap Trail, continue on to Bennett Gap, then return for the western half of the loop.
Hike Length: 6.6 miles Hike Duration: 3.5 hours Hike Rating: Moderate
Blaze: Blue, red Elevation Gain: 1200 feet Hike Configuration: Loop and connector
Trail Condition: Good, some creek crossings
Starting Point: Across Scenic Highway 276 from the Coontree Picnic Area.
Trail Traffic: We encountered only two other hikers on this day.
How to Get There: From Brevard, NC take Hwy. 276 into Pisgah National Forest. Go 4.8 miles from the forest entrance to the Coontree Picnic Area parking. Cross the road to the trailhead.
View Coontree Loop to Bennett Gap, Pisgah National Forest in a larger map
During winter and on weekdays there are plenty of parking places at the Coontree Picnic Area. However, weekends in the summer are another matter. This is a popular destination for families with young children. So if you want a place to park you need to get there early. Just 1/3 mile into the hike there was a decision: take the Coontree Loop clockwise, or counterclockwise. I have done both, and I can’t say I see an advantage either way. On this particular day we chose to take the eastern fork on the way up the mountain. The loop trail itself was a forest trail. If you are looking for scenic mountain views, you won’t find them on Coontree Loop. That’s the reason for extending the hike to Bennett Gap. That trail was along the top of a ridge, and afforded the view in the picture at the top of this post.
The eastern half of the blue blazed loop started with a gradual climb for the first 1/2 mile, but definitely increased its steepness. The forest on the eastern side of the trail was decidedly hemlock, unfortunately afflicted significantly by the woolly adelgid blight that has affected the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. Approximately a mile up from the trail fork we attained the ridge. Here, the Coontree Loop Trail and the Bennett Gap Trail became one and the blaze changes to red. Turning to the left, as we did, continued up Coontree Mountain. Turning right leads downhill to Presley Cove and eventually the Pisgah Horse Stables. The climbing was not over at this point though. The ridge continued upward several hundred more feet through a large oak forest to the skirt of Coontree Mountain. At one point, the breeze picked up and we had to duck for cover from a deluge of mature acorns. Plunk. Here Bennett Gap Trail split from the loop trail and continued northerly.
The climb was less than 100 feet more from this point, and the reward was this remarkable view of the eastern face of Looking Glass Rock from the Bennett Gap Trail, plus a great place to have lunch. At that time of year, with the trees full, I had to do my Meanderthal bit and climb part way up a tree to get the photos I wanted. There was a perfectly placed rocky outcropping on the right of the trail where we all plopped down to rest after the climb, and munch on sandwiches and apples. To the right of the trail we could see Clawhammer and Black Mountains side by side, as well as unfortunately the Duke Energy power transmission lines that follow Perry Cove between the ridges.
Bennett Gap Trail passes the Perry Cove Trail on the right at Saddle Gap and continues for another mile to Forest Service Road 477. This section follows a northwesterly ridge that is mostly flat. There were occasional views through the trees on both sides of the ridge; of Looking Glass to the west and the Blue Ridge to the east. The trail ends at the forest road. Other than that, there is no significance in continuing to the end. On this day we turned back the way we came about 1/4 mile from the forest road.
The downward hike on the westward side of the Coontree Loop seemed steeper than it was on the way up. Again, I’ve done this hike in both directions and I didn’t find either to be excessively steep going up. They just seemed steeper to me coming back down. The trail was a red clay in spots, kind of unusual for this part of the country. The forest was quite different on this side of the loop as well. If you’re looking for a blooming rhododendron hike in late May, the west side of Coontree Loop was loaded with rhodies. There were fewer hemlock and more hardwoods on that side as well.
The last mile of the downward plunge took us across Coontree Creek several times. None of the crossings required the removal of footwear, they all had log bridges or strategically placed rocks. The west side of the loop is a little bit longer distance wise, so it took us longer to get down than to go up, but not by much. We returned to the fork in the trail and a couple more log crossings before again reaching the parking lot. This had been a somewhat windy day, and upon our return to the car, we found it covered from stem to stern with pine needles. I expect the same spot in spring would find the car buried in yellow pollen. I love the great outdoors!