Hike or run the Pink Beds Trail, an ultra-scenic, nearly-level, five-mile loop through a creek-filled forest and grassy wetlands near the Cradle of Forestry.
LOCATION:Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 780 Trails Illustrated Map
Grassy high-elevation meadows. Water-filled mountain bogs, feeding abundant wildflowers and a flurry of wildlife. Crystal-clear creeks, flowing through shallow, sunlit channels with water grasses waving rhythmically in the flow, and a whole lot of exceptionally beautiful forest. Pink Beds is a water-filled wonderland near the Cradle of Forestry, a lush valley over 3,000 feet framed by the nearby peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And weaving and winding through it all is a five-mile loop that explores this stunning terrain at the headwaters of South Fork Mills River.
The Pink Beds Trail runs nearly level through most of the loop, catching view after beautiful view of the boggy mountain wetlands and fern-carpeted hardwood forests. It’s a great hike, and an equally great trail run with a moderate workout, thanks to the gradual elevation change. Named for the brilliant pink bloom of rhododendron and mountain laurel in the springtime, the terrain is known for its abundant wildflowers and lush forests in warm-weather months. The many trickling streams, grassy mountain bogs, and beaver-dammed ponds make this a beautiful hike in just about any season, though – and especially beautiful on chilly, foggy mornings.
Pink Beds: the hike (or trail run)
The adventure begins at a trailhead on Highway 276, south of the Blue Ridge Parkway and just north of the Cradle of Forestry in America, near the Pink Beds picnic area (view maps and driving directions). The trail dives into the forest, following orange trail blazes and almost immediately crossing a bridge over the South Fork Mills River. Dense canopies of gnarly-branched rhododendron and mountain laurel arc over the trail, catching the dappled sunlight.
Reaching the loop portion of the trail, the hike veers right, following the loop counter-clockwise. The trail arcs to the southeast, and then resumes its eastbound course, crossing trickling streams, beaver-dammed ponds, and mountain bogs filled with abundant grasses and tall-stretching wildflowers. This is one of the most scenic and uniquely beautiful stretches of the loop, as the trail meanders to follow a series of extended boardwalks through the wetlands.
After crossing the third boardwalk, the trail veers northbound at .6 mile, reaching the banks of the South Fork Mills River. The trail arcs to the northeast, crossing the river over a wooden bridge at .8 mile. The trail crosses the river yet again, hiking across a rustic bridge made from an enormous fallen log near the confluence of Bearwallow Brook at 1.2 miles. The trail dips through a valley of dense fern and blackberries, reaching a trail intersection with the blue-blazed Barnett Branch Trail. This hike veers right at the trail intersection, following orange and blue trail blazes southbound, and then veering left at 1.6 miles to continue following the orange trail blazes of the Pink Beds Loop.
The trail begins to gain elevation, making a creek crossing over a small bridge and then dipping to cross the South Fork Mills River once again at just under 2.5 miles, passing a campsite. At 2.7 miles, a trail diverts to the right, leading to the river’s gauging station; this hike veers left at the intersection, beginning a wide arc to the west and climbing elevation. The forest in this stretch of the trail is truly beautiful: towering hardwood trees canopy over a sun-dappled forest floor blanketed with millions and millions of vibrant green fern.
The trail crests at 3.3 miles, exiting the fern-filled forest and descending back into the creek-filled valley. The hike makes a number of creek crossings in the next mile, some over shallow creeks via stepping stones, and several over wooden bridges. The hike crosses Barnett Branch over a wooden bridge and passes an intersection with the Barnett Branch Trail at 3.7 miles.
The hike begins a rolling, gradual climb to the trailhead, passing a sun-filled, grassy meadow just before crossing Bearwallow Brook over a small, zig-zag-shaped bridge at 4.25 miles. The trail skirts several additional wide, golden meadows as it rolls elevation to the end, making one more skip over a small creek’s stepping stones at 4.5 miles. Reaching the loop’s end, and the spur trail to the parking area, the adventure finishes at 5.1 miles.
Nearby top trails in the Pisgah National Forest
Highway 276 is well-loved for the outstandingly beautiful forest and waterfalls that flank its winding, scenic path. South of Pink Beds and the Cradle of Forestry lies the extremely popular (and beautiful) roadside waterfall at Looking Glass Falls. Hike into a fern-filled, rocky creek valley to the tumbling 50-foot cascades of Moore Cove Falls, a moderate hike just over one mile. Or scale to incredible mountaintop views and sheer dropoffs on Looking Glass Rock, an enormous, domed mountain that’s one of the most iconic and recognizable peaks from the nearby winding meanders of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free. Before you go, check the official USFS website for trail closures and notices.
35.353517, -82.778733 // N35 21.211 W82 46.724