Ridgeline Trail to Hickory Mountain Loop, DuPont State Forest

When you step on a trail at DuPont State Forest, you can usually tell pretty quickly if it was designed and built for mountain biking. Some tell-tale signs are banked curves and bumps, rails for tricks, and a smooth, hard-packed surface. Such is the case with Ridgeline Trail. DuPont State Forest is a haven for mountain bikers from all over the Southeastern United States, and Ridgeline Trail is one of their favorites. Hey, equestrians like it too. Combine it with a loop around and over Hickory Mountain for a nice hike, or an exciting ride. I traversed these trails on Sunday, March 6, 2016 from 10:45AM to 1:30PM. My plan was to take Ridgeline Trail to Hickory Mountain Loop, circle the loop counter-clockwise, then return.

Hike Length: 6 miles Hike Duration: 2.75 hours

Hike Configuration: Lasso Blaze: None needed

Hike Rating: Moderate. Lots of up, but only a modest steepness.

Elevation Change: 670 feet, gain 710 feet Elevation Start: 2,320 feet

Trail Condition: Built for mountain biking. Hard packed with curves and jumps.

Starting Point: Lake Imaging parking area on Staton Road.

Trail Traffic: 2 hikers, 3 horseback riders, and dozens of mountain bikers.

How to Get There: DuPont State Forest can be accessed from Hendersonville, NC via Kanuga/Crab Creek Rd., from Asheville/Brevard via US64 and Little River Rd., or from Greenville, SC via Cedar Mountain and Cascade Lake Rd. The Lake Imaging parking area is on Staton Road 1/4 mile above the Little River crossing.

 

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Warning! Ridgeline Trail is a very popular mountain biking trail. The riders like it because of its many banked curves, jumps and bumps, and hard-packed surface. Because it is mostly downhill from the north end, the bikers can generate quite a bit of speed during the descent. Which means, for those of us who are hiking the trail at a much slower pace, that we need to keep our heads up and our eyes and ears open. Crashes are not good. The mountain bikers don’t want to hit a hiker, nor do we want to get hit. So be safe.

Access to Ridgeline Trail is from the Lake Imaging parking area on Staton Road. You will reach Ridgeline Trail just a few hundred yards after starting, but you should first continue on another couple hundred feet to see the lake. More of a pond really, it is almost always still, creating a reflective effect of the sky and the surrounding trees. Worth the effort. Then, simply backtrack to the Ridgeline trailhead.

You notice almost immediately that this trail is meant for bikers. The trail tread is very hard packed and smooth from constant use. You don’t see the usual exposed roots and rocks that hikers are so familiar with. Then, you encounter a log ride that the bikers use for slow speed balance practice, and the built-up banked curves that twist through the trees making their ride that much more fun. Five minutes after I stepped on Ridgeline Trail the first mountain bikers came whizzing by. It is almost like a raceway.

But a beautiful setting it is. The forest is very dense with young pine growth, and the floor is covered with the soft cushion of orange-red needles. I heard the near-constant rat-a-tat of woodpeckers sharpening their beaks looking for food hidden deep within the bark. When you enter DuPont State Forest from the north, you descend Staton Road on a long hill to the Lake Imaging parking. Ridgeline Trail is climbing that same hill, although at a much more gradual pitch because of long curves and switchbacks.

 

A mountain biker acquaintance told me these log rides are used for balance practice. As you can see, the forest is quite dense here, as it is throughout the length of the Ridgeline Trail.

A mountain biker acquaintance told me these log rides are used for balance practice. As you can see, the forest is quite dense here, as it is throughout the length of the Ridgeline Trail.

 

Trail Courtesy instructions

About a mile up the hill I heard another animal sound I recognized the snort from a horse that was coming up behind me. In fact, there were two. One of the great things about the DuPont State Forest trail system is the ability for multi-use. I paused for a moment to catch a couple pictures of the equestrians as they rode past, then soon after saw the first horse-bike encounter. There is a certain etiquette on shared trails that helps with safety. Bikers yield to hikers and horses, and hikers yield to horses. When executed properly it works just fine.

Next I passed Hooker Creek Trail coming up from the right. It is a connector that enables you to get to the Guion Farm region of DuPont. But for this hike, I stayed on Ridgeline Trail, reaching Hickory Mountain Loop just a few hundred yards later. This is also the junction with Hickory Mountain Road, a forest service access that also reaches Guion Farm.

There is a grassy meadow at this junction of trails, and a shelter. There was also another horseback rider, in addition to the duo that had passed me earlier. I tried to be a prognosticator. I would much rather have downhill bikers approaching me from ahead rather than from behind, so I tried to decide which direction to take the loop. In the end I chose counter-clockwise.

Hickory Mountain Trail passes the north end of the meadow, then bears east and begins a steady climb through a mixed deciduous and pine forest. The entire loop is supposed to be just 1.1 miles, but it seemed longer to me. About half way up you can begin to see through the trees some of the landmarks that surround DuPont State Forest. There never is an overlook, or unobstructed vista, but you get a sense of the topography from this far northern boundary of the state forest.

There is an odd outcrop about 50 yards off the trail that I just had to see, so I crunched through the fallen leaves to get there. Nothing remarkable, but odd that these large rocks were so far away from any others. When I reached to top of Hickory Mountain I found another rock, this one perfect for a rest and a snack. Several bikers rode past while I enjoyed the long distance scenery, and the assortment of ground level vegetation.

I found holly and long leaf pine, various and sundry mosses and lichens, as well as dog hobble, mountain laurel and rhododendron. In winter I tend to be more aware of what is on the ground. Wildflowers jump out at you in Spring, as do colored leaves in Fall, and wildlife in Summer. But in winter you have to look harder for the unusual treat. I try to make the time.

 

I liked how these holly leaves and long leaf pine branches were intertwined. It caught my eye.

I liked how these holly leaves and long leaf pine branches were intertwined. It caught my eye.

 

Apparently I made the right decision about direction, because on the downward half of the loop I only encountered bikers coming toward me. It may have been just luck, so see how it works out for you. The return on Ridgeline Trail was another matter though. I was passed by a number of bikers as I descended. For awhile I decided to walk off the edge of the trail just for safety.

I saw several of the riders going past having a great time on the jumps and banked curves. I thought how neat it would be to try to get some high speed action photographs and started looking for a biker who might be stopped for a break. My patience was rewarded about half way down when I happened upon Jim Miller, a young mountain biker from Arden, NC. He was trying to setup his Gorillapod to capture a photo of himself as he rode past. So, being the good Meanderthal that I am, I volunteered to take his picture then email him the result.

That result is the photo you see at the top of this page. Click it for a larger view. As you can see, Jim was at least a couple feet off the ground as he got some air while riding past me. I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out as this was really just my first try at capturing any kind of action sports. As I continued the rest of the way down the trail, I paused occasionally to photograph other bikers as they passed by. One of those others is in the gallery below.

To summarize, the first thing I would mention is that it is probably a good idea to only hike Ridgeline Trail on weekdays. It isn’t likely to be as busy with mountain bikers and should therefore be safer. I was there on a Sunday with beautiful weather. Lots and lots of bikes. Otherwise, this is a trail of moderate difficulty that can be done in under three hours, and is also easy to hike because of the packed tread. There aren’t any rewards per se, like waterfalls or majestic overlooks, but it’s a delightful stroll through a very thick forest. There are also plenty of other trails in close proximity, so you can make it longer if you wish.

 

 

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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