Bracken Mountain Preserve and Recreation Area is 395 acres of forested land owned by the town of Brevard in Transylvania County, NC. This municipal preserve is due west of downtown and adjacent to Pisgah National Forest and the Brevard Music Center. The town secured approval from the National Forest Service to build a connection with the established trail system, and to link with Forest Service Road 475C. A grand opening was held on July 27, 2012 for 7.1 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails within the Preserve. Future planned amenities include a group camping area, benches, and observation platforms. We thought it would be fun to tell you about the most recent addition to the Western North Carolina trail family. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 from 8:45am to 12:30pm. Our plan was to take the Bracken Mountain Trail up and over Bracken Mountain to its meeting with FR 475C in Pisgah National Forest, then return.
Hike Length: 9.3 miles Hike Duration: 3.75 hours Blaze: Blue
Hike Rating: Moderate Hike Configuration: Up and back
Elevation Gain: 1,386 feet Elevation Change: 972 feet
Trail Condition: Brand new. Skinned clay. Waiting to mature.
Starting Point: Bracken Mountain Preserve parking area on Pinnacle Rd.
Trail Traffic: We encountered two hikers and four bicyclers.
How to Get There: From Brevard, NC take Probart St. to Music Camp Rd. and turn right. When you reach the entrance to the Brevard Music Center, instead take the gravel Pinnacle Rd. to the left. There is parking at the top of the hill. The trailhead is in the northwest corner behind the signboard.
I’ve been trying to recall if I’ve ever hiked a brand new trail before within days of its opening. Don’t think so. As luck would have it, my companion and I ran into a newness problem before we even got started. When we reached the top of Pinnacle Road in Brevard to access the Bracken Preserve, there was a chain across the road. Huh?
We had read about this new trail in the local newspaper, and it was supposed to open on July 27th. Hmmm. So we headed back down into town wondering what time City Hall opened, and for that matter, where is City Hall? We never found City Hall, but we did find a closed Visitors Center. That’s what we get for being early risers. On the outside wall of the closed Visitors Center was a Brevard brochure that had a phone number for City Hall. Now we’re getting somewhere.
The nice lady who answered the phone transferred me to the Planning Department. She said they had been handling the work on the new Bracken Mountain Preserve. Another very nice lady told me because of the significant rain storm the day before, they had closed the immature trails in order to prevent rutting in the mud from mountain bikes. But, she said, they would have someone up there within five minutes to open the road. Apparently they didn’t mind hiking boot prints.
Sure enough, by the time we got back up to Pinnacle Road, there was a city vehicle just leaving, and the chain was down. Talk about quality service. There is parking for about 8-10 vehicles at the traihead. There we found a brand spanking new signboard with two maps, one of the new trail system within the Bracken Mountain Preserve, and another larger multi-county topographic map that put the Preserve in perspective. The marker for the beginning of the Bracken Mountain Trail is behind the signboard.
Make sure you’re warmed up and stretched out because this hike starts climbing immediately, and continues that way for three miles until it reaches the summit of Bracken Mountain. It’s only moderately steep, ascending almost a thousand feet, but will give you a good workout. This isn’t a simple municipal recreation trail. You will get your exercise.
The trail itself is quite easy to navigate. Being brand new as it is, the surface is totally clear of debris and has been skinned of rocks and roots. As it begins to mature with a layer of leaves this fall, and the eventual mosses and lichens, it will be more intriguing to look at. Right now it has the appearance of a long clay scar on the mountainside.
There are a number of large switchbacks deployed to ease the climb. It certainly lengthens the total distance, but makes the ascent more accessible to all ages, shapes and sizes. The planners did a good job, building an outward camber into the surface of the trail to assist with drainage. The result? Despite the heavy rain the day before, we didn’t encounter any puddling. They also placed barriers on some of the steeper switchbacks in order to protect the mountain bikers who may approach the hairpin turns with too much speed.
After about a mile we came to the first junction with the other major trail in the Preserve, Brushy Creek. The Brushy Creek Trail makes a large loop along the Brushy Creek drainage, then rejoins the Bracken Mountain Trail another couple miles up the mountain. That will be a hike for another day.
The trail is guarded on both sides for a good portion of its length by very mature mountain laurel. Some of the laurel “trees” stood well above 20 feet tall. I suspect this area will be a sensory delight in May when the laurel are in full bloom. The rest of the forest is typical NC hardwood, so look for a bright colorful display in October. Having just been freshly washed with a heavy rain, we didn’t notice any wildlife tracks, but the environment is certainly conducive.
You will want to bring plenty of water with you as there is no obvious water supply along the Bracken Mountain Trail. The Brushy Creek Trail most likely has a water source handy, but there was none that we spotted along our path. Some sort of nutrition is advised as well.
About two miles into the hike is another trail junction, this one with the Mackey Ridge Trail. This is really nothing more than a tenth mile shortcut, as it rejoins the Bracken Mountain Trail in just a couple minutes. We took the longer BMT on the way up, then tried out the shortcut on the way back down.
The next point of note is the western end of the Brushy Creek Trail as it rejoins the BMT. Soon after, the trail begins its final ascent to the summit of Bracken Mountain. There isn’t anything to speak of on the summit other than a very small clearing and a short, flat ridge. There’s a trail marker pointing the way toward Pisgah National Forest, but no mountain view of any kind. I suspect this might be more appealing in winter when the leaves are off the trees.
The final mile to the end of the Bracken Mountain Trail and its joining with Forest Service Road 475C is quite flat. About half way from the summit to the road, the Bracken Mountain Preserve boundary gives way to the national forest. The forest here is beautiful, rich and full. There are fern and galax on the forest floor and the trail itself suddenly changes in maturity with fallen leaves, lichens and a darker, more fertile soil. Presumably this is legacy trail that the Preserve planners incorporated.
When we reached the Forest Road we pulled up a piece of ground and had some lunch. We took out the Pisgah National Forest topo map to orient ourselves with the lay of the land. Just a short 1/2 mile or so down the Forest Road it crosses the Art Loeb Trail near Chestnut Knob and Cat Gap. Cedar Rock and Butter Gap are also less than a mile away. As we were enjoying lunch, a couple of mountain bikers approached up the Forest Road.
There was nothing exceptional about our return trip back down Bracken Mountain. We did meet a few more hikers and bikers. It was a little tiring, eventually coming in over nine miles for the round trip. The misty early morning gave way to summer humidity as we both were sweating profusely on the way back down. Again, a reminder to bring plenty of water and nutrition to replenish what your body uses.
In summary, I think this would be an exceptional trail for mountain bikers, especially if they combine it with Forest Road 475C in Pisgah National Forest to make a large loop. Uniting the Forest Road, the Bracken Mountain Trail, the Brevard Bike Path and Scenic Hwy 276 in the national forest makes a loop that is close to 20 miles long. The Bracken Mountain Trail builders even put several jumps and zig zags into their trail plan.
For hikers, this is not a trail with specific destinations. There really are no sights to see, no landmarks to strive for. If you’re just out to enjoy beautiful forest and get some good exercise, then the Bracken Mountain Trail is for you. If you’re looking for water features, rocky outcroppings or mountain vistas, then you will be disappointed.
The planners and trail builders did a remarkable job. Bracken Mountain Trail is professionally done is every respect. It takes into account drainage and erosion, fun and enjoyment, and most importantly, safety. Give this trail system a few years to mature and I imagine you will see tourists coming to Brevard for more than Pisgah National Forest. They will also come for the Bracken Mountain Preserve.