ApproachI used the Art Loeb Trailhead at the Davidson River Campground, just off 276.
Route DescriptionI decided to make a wide loop consisting of the Art Loeb Trail, the North Slope Connector, and the North Slope Trail. The suspension bridge near the end of the the Art Loeb Trail was washed away during one of the hurricanes two years ago, so you have to use the vehicle bridge at the Davidson River Campground to cross the Davidson River. From there, follow the well-defined walking trail along the river until you come to the Art Loeb Trail and the former location of the suspension bridge. At that point, hang a right and begin a steep ascent up the slopes of High Knob. Within a half mile you will have views of Sycamore Flats Picnic Area below you across the Davidson River. Continue climbing and pass the summit of High Knob on the right. If you wish, bushwhack a short distance to the scrubby summit of High Knob.
Travel through recovering forests of pine and oak. I think this section of the Pisgah Forest was cut less than thirty years ago, so the trees along this part of the Art Loeb Trail are unimpressive. Continue on into older trees for about two miles and come to the gated but well graveled maintained Forest Service Road 5062 (aka Johnson Branch Road). Cross the road and bear right to find the Art Loeb Trail again and cointinue on, passing through rhodendron tunnels and healthy second growth hardwoods. In about a mile, descend slightly to Neil Gap. Do NOT take the unmarked but well formed trail downslope. This is not the North Slope Connector.
Climbing up from Neil Gap, slab around the side of Stony Knob and come to the trail intersection with the North Slope Connector. If you wish to summit Stony Knob, you have to bushwhack up the slope to the south, about 250 feet in elevation gain to achieve the actual summit. The summit will be clearly higher and unmistakable from the rest of the ridge. In Winter, there are some fair views through the trees, but in Spring there would be no views at all.
Return to the North Slope Connector and follow it steeply downslope, coming to a number of switchbacks that take you down quickly past coves and seeps and springs that begin to form into streams. After about 1.3 miles, you will hit the North Slope Trail.
I went right at this point and followed the North Slope Trail eastward. The Trail clings to the side of North Slope Ridge at a fairly even elevation of 2800 feet for about 1.5 miles before descending steeply down toward the Davidson River Campground.
Come to the Davidson River Amphitheater and follow the gravel trail to a parking area and to the camground proper. Total mileage is about five miles with a total elvation gain of roughly 1,100 feet.