Old Growth on Laurel Knob

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 35.70206°N / 82.20591°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 21, 2011
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Searching for Old Growth Forest on Laurel Knob

This hike started with a search on the Internet. I wasn't hunting specifically for this hike, but for information on old growth trees in western North Carolina. I stumbled upon a report by ENTS member Josh Kelly that was accompanied with photographs of some very impressive trees. Further, the details in the article indicated that this forest was located near some trails I'd hiked before. Mr. Kelly was kind enough to provide me with some good information regarding the exact location of some of these groves, so I sent the details on to my hiking friend Andy Kunkle and we made plans to take a look.


This forest is located in an historically significant spot. The Curtis Creek area of western North Carolina is the very first section of our nation's National Forest system. Today, this particular bit of that system
LandscapeBig Rock, Puny Humans.
of regulated forest has within its borders about 8,500 acres of contiguous old growth forest. These days, here in the east, that's a very significant amount. Most people visiting this section of the Pisgah National Forest never see these old trees, because access is by foot only and the undisturbed sections are well away from road access. In fact, you won't even find established trails leading into these groves, so bushwhacking is the only way.

Using the Creek.Stream as trail.
Andy and I found the spot near the Curtis Creek Campground where Josh's directions indicated we should begin. In short order we found the drainage of the unnamed tributary and began our hike. We were looking for a waterfall, above which the more significant trees would be located. As bushwhacking goes, this was pretty easy. The slopes are steep, but the forest is largely open, with a high canopy and not a lot of undergrowth to bar the way. The worst of the troubles are the many dead hemlock trees which can be irritating to negotiate.

Quickly, we found that the slopes of the drainage were extremely steep and in many cases our best bet was to use the stream itself as our main access. This was easy enough, but eventually we came to some cliffs and found that we had to enter the forest and climb above these to continue higher up the sides of Laurel Knob. This also was not a huge problem, save for the fact that we began to encounter large patches of stinging nettles and brambles which zapped our calves. In quick order, the thorns had torn at the exposed flesh of my calves and my legs were a bloody mess. Oh, well, just part of off-trail hiking.

We came to some of the cascades that Josh told us to look for, and as we
Andy is dwarfedDwarfed by trees.
passed by them and moved above the most impressive of these, we began to see the big trees we'd come to find.

I was very impressed with this forest. Most of the big trees here are Yellow (or Tulip) poplars. These are not the biggest poplars I've ever seen--the Great Smoky Mountains and the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest hold those positions. However, to have a forest like this so close to home was eye-opening. The higher we climbed up the slopes, the more big trees we found. Every time I figured we'd seen the best that the forest had to offer, the more extensive the grove seemed to be. We ended up spending about six hours exploring this old growth forest, so we'll return at the next opportunity to see more of it. We examined our topo map and figured how best to enter the grove next time so that we'll be able to explore the drainage from higher up the mountain and work our way down.

I am looking forward to that trip.


When my pals and I go hiking, one of the most satisfying things is to discover a waterfall that's not listed in any literature or one that isn't marked on any maps that we use. So it was when Andy Kunkle and I ventured into the unnamed drainage near Curtis Creek Recreation Area in the Pisgah National Forest. We had been told that there was a waterfall, but we didn't know exactly what to expect.

A New Waterfall!Stinging Nettle Cascades.

We were both pleased to find a very extensive series of cascades that tumble down the very steep slopes of Laurel Knob. Laurel Knob itself is a moderately high mountain that stands on the verge of the Black Mountains, the highest range in the eastern United States of America. Just north of Laurel Knob one can find some of the finest grandstands here in South. So it shouldn't be a surprise that we stumbled upon a largely unknown waterfall. This area is perfect--geologically and topographically--for such discoveries.

Here then, are a couple of videos (plus some more photos) that I shot while hiking up the unnamed tributary in our search for forest giants, and finding the pleasing sights and sounds of falling water:

In and Out BushwhackBushwhack


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