Located in the Bent Creek area west of Asheville, the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area is a suburban fun place for family activities including hiking, biking, fishing, swimming and jogging. Adjacent to the North Carolina Arboretum and part of the Bent Creek Research and Demonstration Forest in Pisgah National Forest, the recreation area contains several miles of trails between the Blue Ridge Parkway and a high mountain ridge. There are connections with long distance trails in the national forest that can make your hike as adventurous as you like. The Homestead Trail is an easy, family friendly stroll that loops around Lake Powhatan, and crosses Bent Creek on each end of the lake. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 8, 2012 from 9:00am to 11:30am. The plan was to take the Carolina Mountain Trail from the Production Greenhouse within the NC Arboretum grounds, then connect with the Homestead Trail via Bent Creek Road.
Hike Length: 5.1 miles Hike Duration: 2.5 hours Blaze: Orange
Hike Rating: Easy Hike Configuration: Out and back
Elevation Gain: 244 feet Elevation Change: 110 feet
Trail Condition: Excellent. Wide, smooth surfaces.
Starting Point: Carolina Mountain Trail at the NC Arboretum Greenhouse.
Trail Traffic: There were lots and lots of joggers out on this day.
How to Get There: From Asheville or Hendersonville, NC take Hwy 191 to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway ramp continues to the left, the Arboretum entrance is immediately on the right. The Production Greenhouse is on Greenhouse Way within the Arboretum grounds.
I started this hike in the North Carolina Arboretum. If you aren’t a member, or are looking for a trailhead closer to Lake Powhatan, you can enter the recreation area on Wesley Branch Road off Hwy 191.
There is a connector to the west end of the Carolina Mountain Trail at the Production Greenhouse in the Arboretum. I chose that as a starting point because of its proximity to Bent Creek Road. The trail passes through pine, mixed hardwood and ericaceous forest types. On this day is early August it was also lined with very large toadstools. I was waiting for Alice to pop out from behind a tree any minute.
After a quarter mile, the trail crosses Wolf Branch Road, then goes down a small hill on a fresh wood chips trail bed. Down below is thick rhododendron and the first look at Bent Creek. There wasn’t much water in the creek, just enough to fill the air with the sound of a trickling flow. Soon, the trail ends at Bent Creek Road.
You will notice immediately the boundary fence for the Arboretum property. There is a gate in the fence that is open during the hours of operation, normally 8AM to 8PM. It may look closed, but don’t worry, it’s okay to walk through. On the other side, Bent Creek Road is an ivy lined footpath that is extremely popular with joggers. I bet I encountered two dozen in the short mile to Homestead Trail.
Bent Creek Road follows its namesake creek as it meanders through Pisgah National Forest. I was surprised to find kudzu along the trail. Who knows when it got introduced to this forest, but it doesn’t take long to choke the trees. At Poplar Cove there is a junction with another forest service road that eventually ends up at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Bear straight ahead to stay on Bent Creek Road.
Just below the reservoir for Lake Powhatan is a very small power plant. Much like the kudzu, it was not something I was expecting to see out here in the forest. There didn’t appear to be anyone working there. Presumably it is self-sustaining. Just beyond the power plant the banks of Bent Creek are encased in stone walls as it flows through the dam. There is a stone bridge across the creek that marks the beginning, and end, of the Homestead Trail loop.
From here, the north side of the lake is paved with asphalt. The only vehicular access though, is for those with handicapped placards. All others must park at the western end of the lake. On the northeastern corner of the lake is a small fishing pier, built in 1990, that looks to accommodate about a half dozen fishermen, or photographers, at any give time.
The pier enables a clear view of the entire expanse of Lake Powhatan. When standing on the pier, to the left is the dam, straight ahead on the south side of the lake is the swimming beach, and to the right are the mountains of Pisgah National Forest. I happened to catch a wind free day, so the lake was mirroring the surrounding environment.
I continued around the northern rim of the lake until I reached a junction at the western end where the paved road continued straight ahead to picnic facilities. Here, I made a left turn onto a dirt footpath that is the continuation of the Homestead Trail. It was good to get back on a trail, rather than road.
Soon afterward, there is a wood plank bridge that crosses Bent Creek as it feeds Lake Powhatan. This is a very beautiful marshy area where I was treated to a deep reverberating cacophony of bullfrogs. The sound seems to echo off the water surface. This scene is in the picture at the top of the post. You may click on it for a larger image. On the south side of the bridge is a connector with another paved road that winds through the recreation area, but I stayed on Homestead Trail.
The trail now hugs the southern rim of the lake as it approaches the swimming beach. This is a small enclosed fee area of perhaps half an acre. For those wishing to swim with family on a hot summer day, the fee is $2. There was a very lonely, bored lifeguard there who was happy to talk with anyone about anything. Apparently this swimming hole doesn’t get much action.
As the trail continues around the south side, it enters a deep rhododendron canopy, then reaches the dam where there is a nice view of the fishing pier. The trail then leaves the lake area and climbs a low hill to meet the Small Creek Trail. This is a connector trail to many of the longer trails in the southern portion of the recreation area.
The trail winds through the woods for another quarter mile before returning to Bent Creek at the stone bridge mentioned above, and that is the end of the loop. It’s only a mile around the lake.
I returned the same way I came, meeting more joggers and bikers along the way.
This hike ended up being right around five flat, easy miles. I started in the Arboretum to add some length to the hike. If you would prefer to stay within the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area keep in mind that it’s just a mile around the lake. If you want to stretch your legs a bit more, you’ll no doubt want to combine the Homestead Trail with one or more of the longer trails found within the recreation area.
Another thing to be aware of, because this is a research forest, on occasion the forest rangers are conducting research experiments and will have some of the trails closed. It might be a good idea to call ahead just in case. Pisgah Ranger District Office: 828-877-3350.
Update October 10, 2014: Went for an Autumn visit to Lake Powhatan. Enjoy the new photos.