One of many trails found off Forest Road 475 in the Pisgah Ranger District near the State Fish Hatchery, Daniel Ridge Loop is a beautiful 6-miler that takes you near the headwaters of Davidson River. As you climb the ridge you’ll have views of the Looking Glass and Cedar Rock plutons on the south side, and drainage off four ridges into Davidson River on the north side. Long-distance viewing is best in winter, but the forest comes alive with dogwood, silverbell, blueberry and rhododendron in the green months. An occasional spruce joins a mostly hardwood forest that even includes some tall, old tulip trees left by loggers a century before. This hike occurred on Thursday, February 28, 2013 from 10:30am to 1:10pm. Our plan was to hike the Daniel Ridge Loop counterclockwise with a visit to Daniel Ridge Falls as well.
Hike Length: 6 miles Hike Duration: 2.75 hours Hike Rating: Moderate
Blaze: Red/orange Elevation Gain: 1,370 feet Hike Configuration: Loop
Trail Condition: Well-maintained, but rocky and rooty.
Starting Point: Daniel Ridge Trailhead on Forest Service Road 475.
Trail Traffic: We did not encounter any other hikers on this trail.
How to Get There: From the junction of US 276/64 in Brevard, NC go 5.4 miles into Pisgah National Forest on 276 to Forest Service Road 475, otherwise known as Fish Hatchery Road, and turn left. Go 4 miles to the parking area on the right. The parking is 0.7 mile past the Cove Creek Campground sign.
Watch for Cove Creek Campground on Fish Hatchery Road. The trailhead for Daniel Ridge Loop is roughly 0.7 mile past. The trailhead is actually Forest Road 137, but it is also signed as Daniel Ridge Loop. Just a hundred yards up the forest road you will cross a rather remarkable steel bridge over Davidson River. Remarkable? Yes, because such an extensive bridge was built this far back in the boonies.
Remember the size of Davidson River here, because in a couple hours when you reach the headwaters area, it will be not much more than a mountain stream. Just past the bridge and a few campsites is a decision point. You may take the Daniel Ridge Loop in either direction. Clockwise follows the river first, then climbs the north side of the ridge. Counterclockwise begins climbing the south side of the ridge almost immediately, then ends along the river.
The trail map says the blaze markings on Daniel Ridge Loop are red. I have been known to have some color-blindness, but I have to tell you the blaze looks bright orange to me. You can decide for yourself. Either way, the markings are frequent and easily identifiable.
My companion and I usually like to get the climbing out of the way at the beginning while we are still fresh, so we chose the right fork, FR 5046. With that decision came a nice surprise. A couple hundred yards up 5046 the Daniel Ridge Loop takes off up the hill. However, if you go past another 80 yards on the forest road, you will hear and find Daniel Ridge Falls, a 100 foot multi-tiered cascade that isn’t even on the trail maps.
Daniel Ridge Falls, apparently also known as Toms Spring Falls, is Lanning Branch dropping across multiple levels of black granite as it rushes to eventually meet Davidson River. You can get right close to the falls about mid-tier. Getting to the top, or the bottom, would require some bushwhacking.
After snapping a few photos, we backtracked to the Daniel Ridge Loop cutoff and commenced our climb up the ridge. The steepness never gets more than moderate, but it is uphill for the better part of a mile and a half. A few switchbacks will take you to Lanning Branch above the waterfall. You’ll follow the stream for awhile, even cross it once, then take a turn in a westerly direction. You will encounter a meadow on the right with one of the tallest holly trees I’ve ever seen.
Not far past this meadow, a spur trail will come down from the north. We did not take this trail, but I’m told you can find another waterfall by going 0.1 mile to a junction with FR 5046, then taking a right turn for 0.2 mile. There will be a nice view of Pilot Mountain to the southwest, and a 50-foot small-volume waterfall cascading off a large escarpment that is surrounded by wildflowers.
The forest is mostly hardwood
— tulip trees, oak, beech and birch
— with an occasional spruce thrown in. Everywhere there is water you’ll find the ubiquitous rhododendron, though I don’t recall seeing much mountain laurel along the Daniel Ridge Trail.
About mid-climb the turf changes from typical Carolina dirt to red clay. When you reach this slippery-when-wet clay you’re almost to the next crossing of grassy FR 5046. The trail continues on the other side of the road, then shortly takes a northwesterly turn. Keep your eyes peeled to your right and behind you as you approach the top of the ridge. You will see the large granite faces of Looking Glass Rock and Cedar Rock through the trees (well, maybe not in summer). For us, Cedar Rock was glistening in the sun with its ice covering.
As you top Daniel Ridge and begin heading down the north side, the vista completely changes. Off to the west (your left) and north (straight ahead) is an area I would call Four Ridges. It is made up of Shuck Ridge, Daniel Ridge, Fork River Ridge, and Lanning Ridge. Each have their own drainage channel that eventually meets Davidson River. It’s really a remarkable view and awesome in its intimidation. If you were trying to proceed in that direction, you are essentially hemmed in. Far on the back side of the ridges is the Blue Ridge Parkway.
About half way down the north side of Daniel Ridge there is another spur trail off to the right. This one connects with FR 225 and would take you to Lanning Ridge. Should you so desire, you could eventually end up on Bennett Knob overlooking Looking Glass Rock. But that is several miles away.
Continuing down Daniel Ridge Loop Trail another 3/8 mile you will come to a junction with the Farlow Gap Trail. You’ll begin to hear the sound of rushing water from the Davidson below, and catch the occasional glimpse of whitewater through the trees. Farlow Gap is a trail for another day, but that is a way around Four Ridges. It eventually connects with the Art Loeb Trail to Pilot Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway, then beyond into Shining Rock Wilderness. This is the most northerly point on the Daniel Ridge Loop Trail.
And a point it is, because the Daniel Ridge Trail almost reverses direction as it turns south and heads steeply down toward Davidson River. By this time we were thinking about lunch, so we looked for some nice boulders along the rushing stream and stopped to enjoy. The sights, sounds, and smells were marvelous as we re-nourished and surveyed this beautiful woodland scene. I plan on coming back in spring when the dogwood, trillium, and even columbine are in bloom.
The rest of Daniel Ridge Trail follows Daniel Ridge Creek into Davidson River as they plunge several hundred feet over the next two miles. At times, the trail will be right beside the water, at others it’s 30 feet above. Either way, the photo opportunities are numerous. For those who love backcountry camping, so are the primitive sites that are available along the river. You’ll also see evidence of logging from nearly a century ago, but the forest has returned magnificently.
The Forest Service has done a wonderful job with their management practices in this area as you can identify the multi-age levels of growth that will help to ensure a thriving woodland for the next century and beyond. One thing I did find somewhat odd though, was the tulip poplars that were shedding their bark. I noticed a few. Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of some kind of blight.
Watch for several small waterfalls along Davidson River as you continue the descent. The Daniel Ridge Trail merges with Forest Road 137 at an old stone logging bridge. The construction of the stone support walls on each side of the old bridge are quite impressive. There is a trail on the opposite side of this bridge, but it is no longer supported by the Forest Service. The rhododendron that lines the river gets thicker and thicker as you approach the end of the loop and your return to the start point.
In summary, I really loved the scenery on this trail. This is a moderately easy hike that is family friendly and appropriate during any season. The Forest Service records this loop as only four miles, but with the side trips to Daniel Ridge Falls and other photo spots, my GPS tracked it as nearly six. I already have this hike on my list for a return in the spring. I’m anxious to see what the trail, water and woods offer when it’s time to show off their blossoming finery.
As mentioned above, I planned on revisiting this trail in spring, and so I did on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The river and the forest were just as awesome as I suspected, so my high recommendation for the Daniel Ridge Loop Trail continues. Enjoy these additional photos from my most recent trip.