Hiking around the Asheville area is extraordinary, with literally hundreds of options close to the Sourwood Inn. This past Sunday, we awoke to beautiful blue skies and mild temperatures and knew it was a perfect day to hike and picnic. We originally planned to hike the newly created Wildcat Rock Trail (Part 2 to follow in a future blog after we hike this trail). What we experienced was an incredible reserve that was filled with many hiking trails, waterfalls, and mountain views. We ended up hiking the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead which leads to the Florence Nature Preserve and wandering around the beautiful Laughing Waters Retreat Center which is where we parked our car. Being totally confused about the trails and areas we had just experienced, we came home to do a little research. We were totally blown away by the conservation efforts coming together in this area. The Florence Nature Preserve is worthy of many hiking adventures, and rest assured, you will see many more blogs about this area.
About the Florence Nature Preserve
The Florence Nature Preserve is located off of highway 74A in Gerton and includes 5+ miles of hiking trails on 600 beautiful acres on the slopes of Little Pisgah Mountain. To reach the Preserve from the inn, you’ll travel south on Highway 74, including a picturesque mountain drive that is especially beautiful during the autumn season. The preserve is protected and maintained by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and is a unique treasure in the upper Hickory Nut Gorge. In 1996 Dr. Tom and Glenna Florence donated the land to the Conservancy. Still, until recently, access to the trail system was along a private property right-of-way, which made access cumbersome with little parking.
To improve this access, Hickory Nut Forest Eco-Community recently transferred 26 acres to CMLC, which includes vehicle parking and a scenic route of entry. Hikers can also use this trailhead to access the Hickory Nut Gorge Trail System which extends down through the gorge.
Trails in the Florence Nature Preserve
You’ll know you’ve reached the trailhead entrance with a visible old stone chimney standing on a hill. Hiking here can be fairly strenuous, so bring good hiking shoes and plenty of water. Please note the old access on Kelly Hill Road is now closed.
We highly recommend plotting out your trails before you go, as you have so many options in this area. We could bring maps up on our phones, but a little preplanning would have been helpful. Below are details and options of each trailhead in the preserve, with further information from the HikeNC website.
- Florence Preserve Blue Trail– As Florence Preserve’s longest trail, this one has a variety of characters. From Kelly Mountain Road up to the Yellow trailhead connector, this is a narrow, slope-side trail with a couple of creek crossings on log bridges.
- 1.8mi, Climbs Moderately, Moderately Rough
- Florence Preserve Orange Trail- Little Pisgah Point Trail-This is the orange trail (one of three) that leads from the Blue Trail out to Little Pisgah Point. It’s a gently-sloped old roadbed. Right at the end, a narrower path leads up onto some interesting rocks. We enjoyed our picnic lunch here.
- 0.2mi, Climbs Gently, Some Obstacles
- Florence Preserve Orange Trail-Overlook Trail-This is a short, narrow side path. It is a beautiful overlook of the Red trail with some good views to the west up the gorge. Some neat oak trees grow near the end of the trail at the small rock outcrop.
- 0.1mi, Climbs Moderately, Some Obstacles
- Florence Preserve Orange Trail- West Trail- A ridgetop and side-hill trail which mostly parallels Little Pisgah Road, in the preserve’s northwest section.
- 0.5mi, Climbs Moderately, Some Obstacles
- Florence Preserve Red Trail -Climbs steeply from Kelly Hill Road, up to the top of the ridge. This old roadbed trail levels out beyond the orange overlook connector.
- 1.1mi, Climbs Steeply, Moderately Rough
- Florence Preserve White Trail- Follows an old roadbed along most of its length, with a gentle grade compared to other trails in the area. Two creek crossings.
- 0.3mi, Climbs Gently, Few Obstacles
- Florence Preserve Yellow Trail- This is one of 3 yellow trails in Florence Nature Preserve, which (taken together and using connectors) traverse the area from southeast to northwest. This is an old roadbed – steep and narrow at times as it leaves the Blue Trail – which climbs all the way up to the White trail. There are some neat forest scenes along the way, and it’s a dry trail.
- 0.25mi, Climbs Moderately, Some Obstacles
- Florence Preserve Yellow Trail– North Trail-A dead-end trail, on an old roadbed. Ends near the westernmost creek in the preserve.
- 0.25mi, Climbs Moderately, Some Obstacles
- Florence Preserve Yellow Trail-Trailhead Connector- Climbs, steeply at first, from the new trailhead on US 74-A (the old chimney) to the Blue Trail near the mainstream. Passes near some very steep areas near the beginning.
- 0.75mi, Climbs Steeply, Some Obstacles
For our hike, we began on the Yellow Trail Connector which is the main entrance to the Preserve. We then took the Blue Trail and connected to the dead-end Orange Trail where we climbed and picnicked on the Tom and Glenna Rock. After lunch, we then walked back on the Blue Trail.
Next time, we want to do a full circle around the red trail. (Part three to this blog)
What to look for at the Preserve
We found the trailhead very easy to navigate, although the Upper Hickory Nut Trailhead that connects to the Preserve is steep. However, once in the Preserve, it levels out.
Here you will find trickling streams and small waterfalls, and impressive rock outcroppings. Naturalists will find rare species of salamanders, including the Blue Ridge grey-cheeked salamander and crevice salamanders. The Florence’s, who donated the property, was fond of the pink and yellow Lady slipper wildflowers. We especially enjoyed the beginning of the changing leaf colors. Highlighted below are things to enjoy during your hike:
- Great views from Rattlesnake Rock (future hike)
- Well-maintained trails.
- Beautiful scenery from the viewpoint at Little Pisgah Point
- Pristine creeks and cascades
- Rock formations
- Quiet trails – we only met a few hikers on our trek
- Wildflowers, including yellow and pink lady slippers
- Diverse wildlife, including birds and salamanders
- Remains of an old homesite
Future Trails for Hickory Nut Gorge
Amazing plans are being developed by Conserving Carolina for this area. The trailhead that we used to reach the preserve is currently 13 miles of trails in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. Future plans are highlighted below:
The Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail System is one loop in a future 130+ mile trail system that links trails throughout the Hickory Nut Gorge. So when complete, the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge loop will form a 20-mile loop that connects Florence Nature Preserve,Wildcat Rock Trail, Bearwallow Mountain, Trombatore Trail, and Blue Ridge Pastures.
Come Stay with us at the Sourwood Inn
Stay with us for an unforgettable Asheville Getaway. The inn includes 12 guest rooms in our upscale lodge, including beautiful mountain views, wood-burning fireplaces, and spa-like baths. You can check out our room choices here. The inn is also known for our farm-to-table dinners served Thursday- Sunday and our extensive and thoughtful wine list. So book your stay today and enjoy a memorable hike in the Florence Nature Preserve nearby. It’s the perfect place to go for a quiet and pleasant walk in the woods, off the beaten path.