This short, little trail from Cove Creek to the State Fish Hatchery is often overlooked, but it will take you to some of the most gnarly whitewater on Davidson River. The trail is simple. It’s just a straight 1.1 mile shot from one end to the other, and then back. Ah, but have you ever seen a two-tiered trail? If you promise to be very, very careful on the river bank, I will tell you more about the Davidson River Trail. My brother and I hiked this trail on Saturday, May 10, 2014 beginning at 10:00AM and ending about 11:30AM. Our plan was to see what there was to see on the Davidson River Trail. We got a lot more than expected.
Hike Length: 2.2 miles Hike Duration: 1.5 hours
Blaze: Blue Hike Rating: Moderate. Easy trail, dangerous river bank.
Elevation Gain: 100 feet Hike Configuration: Out and back
Trail Condition: Upper trail – Excellent. Lower trail – poor and dangerous.
Starting Point: Parking pullout along FR 475 at Cove Creek Campground entrance.
Trail Traffic: We were the only ones on the trail.
How to Get There: From Brevard, NC get on Scenic Hwy 276 west into Pisgah National Forest. Go 5.2 miles, then turn left onto Forest Road 475. Go 2.5 miles to parking for the Cove Creek Group Camp. The trailhead is on the left.
It was a cloudy, overcast day with a 50/50 chance of showers. Perfect for creek pictures, we thought. My brother made his annual pilgrimage from Colorado to WNC at the perfect time to see the greening of Pisgah National Forest. Our first stop was the obligatory visit to Looking Glass Falls. No trip to Davidson River is complete without it. Just a short quarter mile up Hwy 276 from the river, everyone who comes to Pisgah has to stop there. It’s written in the outdoors code.
Every time I had been to the trails at Cove Creek Group Camp, I had noticed this somewhat hidden trailhead just up the road about 50 feet from the parking area. Finally, today was the day to check it out. The trailhead marker said it is called Davidson River Trail, so we thought maybe an easy stroll along the river bank as it meandered its way downstream.
We had the easy stroll part right. It’s a gravel track that is very flat, and it does follow the river, but… it’s located about 50-70 feet above the level of the river so you can’t see much. Darn, we said, we sure would like to be down there. We could hear the loud rushing sound of some very serious whitewater down below, but the ravine here is very steep. There isn’t really any good way to get from here to there.
We rounded one small curve and got a nice view of John Rock standing guard above the Fish Hatchery and Education Center. And so it was, a major disappointment. At least it was only a mile. Little did we know that our fortune was about to change. On the way back we noticed there was another dirt tread trail that paralleled the gravel trail we were on. It was 30-40 feet lower, and only about 20 feet above river level. Aha! There’s the ticket.
So when we got back to the trailhead we looked for the access to this lower trail. It’s only about 10-15 yards beyond the trail sign at the road. And wow! Right off the bat we were treated to a fierce cascade where Cove Creek poured into Davidson River.
Warning! OK. Before I go any further, it’s time to remind you how dangerous wet, algae covered granite is. Believe me
— it is slick! No fancy Gryptonite hiking shoes are going to protect you from slipping, cracking your head open, and washing up among the trout a mile down river. Suction cups? Not even. This is nasty, nasty perilous stuff. The granite river bank even cants downward toward the water making it doubly lubricious.
Now that you’ve been warned, I will tell you that the next half mile along Davidson River is some of the prettiest and most rugged rapids around. It even rivals the Green River. All these years hiking near the Fish Hatchery and I hadn’t a clue.
The lower-tier trail is nothing like the groomed gravel trail above. This was probably the original trail, and it has now been abandoned. No longer maintained, much of it is eroding into the river, is covered with exposed roots, and is generally in very poor condition. It too is still 20 feet above river level, so when you see a spot you want to explore, it’s scrambling through rhododendron and dog hobble thickets and who knows what else.
One particularly egregious place that I simply HAD to see took me five minutes to wallow my way through muck and mire just to get the photo you see at the top of this post. What in the world was this 60-something year old thinking? Well, if you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough. It’s the Meanderthals way.
The good news is, my brother and I survived without any slips or falls and live to hike another day. Please, if you try this trail, you do the same. Enjoy the pictures!