Buckhorn Gap Trail to Twin Falls, Pisgah National Forest

Just southeast of the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest lies the Avery Creek area, a beautiful hardwood forest with plenty of water and a hidden pair of waterfalls known as Twin Falls. Access to the falls is via the Buckhorn Gap Trail, an easy to moderate track that first follows Avery Creek, then turns north alongside Henry Branch. The forest management work in the area by the U.S. Forest Service is superb with “two-age cut” that makes it gorgeous even when the leaves are down. This hike occurred on Thursday, November 15, 2012 from 10:00am to 1:10pm. Our plan was to take the Avery Creek Trail to the Buckhorn Gap Trail, then on to Twin Falls and eventually Buckhorn Gap. We would complete the loop through Clawhammer Cove.

Hike Length: 6.6 miles Hike Duration: 3 hours Blaze: Blue, orange, blue

Hike Rating: Easy, some moderate uphill Hike Configuration: Loop

Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet Elevation Change: 720 feet

Trail Condition: Very Good. Well maintained, some roots, lots of creek crossings.

Starting Point: Avery Creek Trailhead on Forest Road 477.

Trail Traffic: We didn’t encounter anyone else on this hike.

How to Get There: Leaving the Pisgah District Ranger Station/Visitor Center parking lot near Brevard, NC, turn right (north) onto US 276. Proceed ½ mile and turn right on first gravel road (FS 477, signed for Pisgah Riding Stables). Continue 2.3 miles to Avery Creek trailhead, which has room for two vehicles on left. If this space is not available, proceed 0.3 mile further to the Buckhorn Gap (#103) trailhead, which has parking space on the right for six vehicles. Return to Avery Creek trailhead to begin; or take Buckhorn Gap Trail approximately 0.6 mile to its intersection with Avery Creek Trail (0.5 mile upstream from the Avery Creek trailhead).

There are two options available for getting to Twin Falls on the Buckhorn Gap Trail. You can start at the Avery Creek Trailhead and hike half a mile to the Buckhorn Gap Trail junction, or you can go a little farther up Forest Road 477 to the Buckhorn Gap Trailhead. We opted for the former as it would give us more time following scenic Avery Creek.

As you approach the trailhead along the forest road, there is a nice view of Avery Creek 50-60 feet below. Once on the trail, it drops quickly to get down there to creek level. Look for the cool birdhouses put out along the creek by the Forest Service. Avery Creek passes through Clawhammer Cove, an area we would see from the other side later on the return trip. Avery Creek is about 10 feet wide here, surrounded by lots of brush and marsh. This bottom land area is pretty muddy.

After crossing the creek on the first of what would be a dozen or more log bridges, the blue blazed trail stays 10-15 feet above the creek and is quite a bit dryer. The scrub and brush changes to laurels and hardwoods and the creek bank is considerably more attractive. A quarter mile up the trail we came to a small 8-10 foot waterfall, one that filled the forest air with the refreshing sound of rushing water.

Not much farther and the Buckhorn Gap Trail comes in from the left and joins the Avery Creek Trail for a couple hundred yards, then departs on the right at another creek crossing. This junction is well marked. We got on the orange blazed Buckhorn Gap Trail to head toward Twin Falls.

The next stretch is the steepest part of the hike as the trail climbs about 300 feet in the subsequent half mile. Seemingly every 100 yards or so you’ll be crossing the creek again on small log foot bridges. This continues after the trail takes a decidedly northward turn to follow Henry Branch instead of Avery Creek. The branch isn’t as wide as Avery Creek, but still beautiful in its own right.

Watch for a trail marker on your left for the delightful side trip off Buckhorn Gap Trail to Twin Falls. This short loop to the falls also takes you through a gorgeous “two-age cut” forest of white oak, pin oak, hickory and poplar. Through methods learned in the past century, the Forest Service no longer clear cuts to regenerate forest. Instead, they will thin a forest, enabling multiple benefits such as aesthetics, tree species diversity, high-quality wood products, and habitat for many wildlife species.

Avery Creek in Clawhammer Cove

The older aged trees are extremely healthy, stretching as high as a hundred feet on their reach for sunshine. Because the forest floor is clear, the newer aged trees have plenty of opportunity to receive that nourishing sunshine as well. The total visual affect of this “two-age cut” is, I think, most apparent after the leaves have fallen. There is a two-level forest with a wide expanse of bright blue sky as a backdrop.

Twin Falls is in a natural amphitheater about a quarter mile from the trail split. The falls level is about 80-100 feet above the forest floor, and the two distinct waterfalls are about 100 yards apart. The first one you will see is straight ahead on the northern side of the amphitheater, while the second is on the western side and is more easily accessible. You can climb to the base of the western falls for a full length view of this tall, but narrow multi-tiered cascade.

Again, I think late fall or winter is probably the best time to visit because the narrow waterfall is lined with thick vegetation that disrupts the view. Having not been here in spring or summer, I can only imagine that it is difficult to see much. The northern waterfall is even more of a challenge to approach. If you wish to get to the base of that cascade, plan on bushwhacking through rocky, uneven terrain. We chose not to.

I’m really glad I learned about Twin Falls. I didn’t even know it is there because it doesn’t appear on the topographical maps for the Pisgah Ranger District. One of my companions happened to have seen it years ago, and remembered as we were beginning the hike. The large natural amphitheater is simply stunning with the two waterfalls surrounded by the remarkable work done by the Forest Service with the “two-age cut.”

To get back to Buckhorn Gap Trail, you can cross the creek at the base of the falls to continue the side loop, or simply go back the way you came. Continuing to loop as we did will take you to a row of hitching posts for those equine fanciers that venture up this way to see Twin Falls. This is where you would have come to by continuing straight on Buckhorn Gap Trail instead of taking the side trip to Twin Falls.

Meadow at Buckhorn Gap

From this point, the trail resumes the moderate ascent toward Buckhorn Gap. It’s about another 200 feet of elevation change. The trail gets wider as there is evidence this used to be an old logging road back in the day. You will reach a rim above the Henry Branch drainage that has nice views both downward to follow the flow downstream, and outward through the bare trees to the Clawhammer and Black Mountains beyond.

You will reach a decision point at a trail junction. You can continue straight ahead another quarter mile to Buckhorn Gap to its meeting with Forest Road 505B, or you can take a right turn (east) to pick up 505B further downhill. We made the latter choice as we always prefer hiking on trail rather than road any day.

Where this short stretch of trail does meet the forest road, there is a small meadow off to the right with a stand of imported Russian Olive trees. To us, this looked like a great place for lunch. With the clearing in the forest, the sun was shining brightly and warming us. The grasses in the meadow are trimmed periodically so it made for a nice soft spot to take off the packs and relax. I would imagine this meadow is also enjoyed by wildlife early in the morning.

Nourished and refreshed, we started downward on the grassy forest road about a half mile to the Clawhammer Cove Trail. Watch for this closely on your right as the trail marker is offset about 10 feet from the road. It would be easy to walk right on by. This blue blazed trail continues the descent for another half mile before reaching Avery Creek again in Clawhammer Cove. When you reach the junction with the Avery Creek Trail, don’t forget to make a hard left turn to get back to your car.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable hike, and I think we timed it well. It seems to me the features found along these trails are best appreciated in the colder seasons. Having leafless trees truly opens up the forest for views of the surrounding mountains in Pisgah National Forest, and it enables a better view of the paired cascades found at Twin Falls. The terrain is easy and rolling. The only cautions I would advise are to watch for roots in the trail, and be careful on the dozen or more creek crossings.

 

 

Updated April 7, 2015: Paid another visit to the beautiful forest that surrounds Twin Falls. This time I went the whole way on the Buckhorn Gap Trail, enabling me to discover Avery Creek Falls for the first time. It’s a pretty robust 8-footer that requires a short, downhill bushwhack to access.

I also found it easier to access the Twin Falls this time, climbing clear up to the base of each cascade. There isn’t as much thicket cover to battle with this time of year, making access to a closer view of the falls considerably less challenging. Additionally, there is a nameless waterfall a couple hundred yards before Twin Falls that was presenting itself this time after a hard rain the night before.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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