Another of the myriad of ridge and gap trails from North Mills River to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Bad Fork Trail follows its namesake creek from Forest Road 5000 to Bent Creek Gap at mile 400 on the Parkway. This is a four mile round trip that can be extended by continuing on the Mountains to Sea Trail on the north side of the Parkway. Only moderately steep, this is a nice leg stretcher that doesn’t take very long to complete. Look for laurel blossoms in the spring and views through the trees in winter. Our hike occurred on Thursday, September 13, 2012 from 9:45am to 12:30pm. The plan was to start at the Bad Fork Trailhead along Wash Creek Road (Forest Road 5000) and climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We would then explore some of the Mountains to Sea Trail at Bent Creek Gap across the Parkway.
Hike Length: 5.6 miles Hike Duration: 2.75 hours Blaze: Orange, white
Hike Rating: Moderate, some strenuous climbing Hike Configuration: Up and back
Elevation Gain: 970 feet Elevation Change: 795 feet
Trail Condition: Excellent. Wide single track. Some creek crossings.
Starting Point: Along Wash Creek Road (FR 5000) in North Mills River Rec. Area.
Trail Traffic: We encountered only a single trail jogger.
How to Get There: From the Asheville/Hendersonville Regional Airport travel west on US 280 six miles to the traffic light at North Mills River Road. Turn right and travel five miles to the North Mills River Recreation Area. Turn right on Forest Service Road 5000 and go 2.5 miles to the Bad Fork Trailhead.
Once you reach the North Mills River Recreation Area, look for Forest Road 5000 on your right. Otherwise known as Wash Creek Road, it starts out as pavement, then changes to gravel after a quarter mile. It is 2.5 miles to the Bad Fork Trailhead, but we missed it on the way by the first time. The trail marker is set back about 20 feet from the road in a curve. There are large campsites on each side of the road in the curve.
The trail is extremely well maintained. It’s a wide single track with orange blaze markings and hardly any roots or rocks at all. It starts out nearly flat for the first half mile, following Bad Fork, a small stream that twists down the western flank of Brushy Ridge.
This is a forest hike, typical of the trails in North Mills River. There are a few evergreens, but you will mostly find deciduous trees and laurels. The forest is well shaded with occasional bursts of sun rays shining through the canopy… like in the photo up top.
In the middle 3/4 mile, Bad Fork Trail begins a modest ascent and crosses the creek several times. The only complaint I would have about the trail maintenance is the log bridges across the stream. They really aren’t safe… rotten and cracked, and spread too far apart so you could catch an ankle in between. The good news is you can also ford the stream using strategically placed rocks that enable hop and skip crossing.
The final 3/4 mile navigates most of the 700 feet of elevation gain. It was a challenge at times. We stopped for the occasional 30 second breather. About 45 minutes into the hike we began to hear traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so we knew it couldn’t be much further. You will know you’re just about there when you begin to see a number of large boulders on either side of the trail. These make great seats for a rest, or a break for lunch.
A hundred feet before the Parkway, Bad Fork Trail spills onto the northern end of Wash Creek Road. You are between mileposts 400 and 401 on the Parkway at Bent Creek Gap. There is a tunnel here under the Parkway that joins Bent Creek Gap Road on the north side. Were you to continue north, you would eventually end up in the Bent Creek Research and Demonstration Forest and Lake Powhatan Recreation Area.
Since the day was still young, we decided to check out the Mountains to Sea Trail that follows the Blue Ridge Parkway through this area. Passing through the tunnel, the trailhead is on the right with white blaze markings.. The MtS loops around Cold Knob, proceeding in a northerly direction. We were hoping to come to an overlook at the rim of the knob, but that was not the case. We went out the trail a little more than half a mile through thick rhododendron and the occasional fir. The fir trees were a surprise, as were the bright green moss and lichens that lined the trail.
Perhaps there would be more of a view of the Bent Creek area in winter when the trees are bare, but I guarantee the path is a floral delight in spring. When reaching the northernmost point, we decided to give up our search for an overlook and head back.
There are a number of choices for the return. You can walk west on the Parkway a mile to Beaverdam Gap and join the trail there. You can walk Wash Creek Road all the way back down to Kramers Vista and beyond. Unfortunately, this doubles the length of the return as the road takes a very indirect route back to the Bad Fork trailhead. And, you can return the way you came. That was our choice.
As the result, the return was unremarkable, but we did stop at the large boulders to eat a sandwich and study the terrain map, considering possible future hikes in the area.
I will repeat the word unremarkable. I think that is an apt description of the Bad Fork Trail. It’s good exercise and a nice hike through the forest along a small stream. The trail is in excellent condition. If you don’t dawdle like we did, you can easily do the round trip in less than two hours. You can start at either end. Access the southern end from North Mills River Recreation Area or the north end from the Blue Ridge Parkway.