It was a little over a year ago when I learned about a new 10,000 acre public land acquisition located between Asheville, NC and Johnson City, TN. Described as remote, isolated and unmapped (as far as trails go), I knew right away where I’d be spending my play time for the foreseeable future. I’ve now completed most of the routes that can be mountain biked in Rocky Fork, and I’m happy to present my first trip report post since my son came into this world.
When I started out, there were no accurate trail maps of the Rocky Fork tract. Well no more. The clickable image below shows a fairly good trail map of the area (image captured from National Geographic TOPO software).
So for anyone interested, here are the details:
Rocky Fork Trailhead
The trailhead I used is located in the southeast corner of the map. It is near Flag Pond, TN, the last I-26 exit in Tennessee before entering North Carolina. Here are directions from an article in Blue Ridge Outdoors:
From I-26, take the Flag Pond exit. At the stop sign turn left onto Higgins Creek Road. Drive .5 mile, then turn right on route 23. Drive 2.25 miles through Flag Pond, then turn left on Rocky Fork Road. Drive .75 mile to a gravel pull-off to the left in front of a gate. From here, explore Rocky Fork on foot or bike.
There are other possible access points, including Higgins Creek and Squibb Creek, but the one listed above is likely to be the best for most people. Access is also possible via the Appalachian Trail (AT), but that would be a long hike.
Buzzard Rock, a southern Appalachian bald and the Appalachian Trail
This is the crown jewel of the tract; getting there requires quite an effort. The out and back route I chose to mountain bike was 16 miles long with nearly 3,000’ of elevation gain. Five stream crossings each way (two that are knee deep) make it an unappealing route during winter. But the pay off is awesome, taking you by Buzzard Rock (pictured at the top of the post), Ball Ground (a southern Appalachian bald, pictured below), and the Appalachian trail. I apologize for the image quality in this post – I was using a camera phone to cut down on weight and bulk, and it was a very windy day to boot.
Higgins Ridge / Lake
This is also an out and back — a seemingly endless climb that takes you up to a figure eight loop, that circumnavigates a seven acre man-made lake. This is the red trail that runs along the east side of the map. One advantage for winter riders/hikers – no stream crossings.
Although the Carolina Mountain Club has done this as a hike from the AT as recently as the spring of 2008, I found it nearly impassable two years later, and certainly not to be attempted by bike. Theoretically, there are connections to Blockstand Creek and Flint Mountain, once you get out of the bottom. Lots of stream crossings; well, actually…the streambed is the trail in many places.
I made it to a couple of splits worthy of further exploration, including one that looked rough, but promised to head up towards the AT. One stream crossing is required, but you may be able to keep your feet dry in low water periods.
Rich Mountain and Wilson Knob
I haven’t done this one (shown in blue on the map), but I have seen both ends of the ridge road and it appears to be wide open and in pretty good shape (once you get to the ridge!). The track is from a Garmin Connect user. Doing it as a loop means deep water stream crossings, but you can stay dry by approaching it as an out and back from the Higgins Ridge side.
A note about conditions
The Rocky Fork tract receives very little traffic, so be prepared for rough conditions and self-rescue! Most of the routes are old logging roads, and after the first few miles they tend to be overgrown or in otherwise rough condition in places.
Rocky Fork GPX files
The links below are for GPX files that you can download for the trails I’ve recorded:
- Rocky Fork waypoints
- Rocky Fork to AT
- Rocky Fork Higgins Ridge / Lake
- Rocky Fork Blockstand
- Rocky Fork Flint Creek
What’s left to explore? Waterfalls!
There’s still plenty left to explore in Rocky Fork, including waterfalls such as the one shown below on Higgins Creek in the northeast corner of the tract. This web page has a map showing the Higgins Creek trailhead location. Image courtesy Mark Peacock.