|Exploring Curtis Creek
Fieldtrip Report by Kelvin Taylor
My first visit to Curtis Creek was in May of 1987 while on a college botany fieldtrip. I quickly
became impressed with this historic area nestled off the Blue Ridge Parkway in McDowell county,
North Carolina. The lush woodlands of hemlock and rhododendron flank the white rushing
waters of Curtis Creek, are home to a variety of plant and animal life.
At least 11 species of native orchids and dozens of other wildflowers have been documented in
the area. Some rarer plants like turkey beard (Xerophyllum asphodelioides) grow in the drier
open woods while Triphora trianthophora or Three Birds Orchid prefer thick, moist woods. For
anglers the streams and creeks support a variety of fish including rainbow, brook and brown
trout. Sections of the creek north of US 70 are broad floodplains that provide easy access for
close-up of the flowers
Curtis Creek is located in the Pisgah National Forest and visitors have plenty of activities
including hiking, camping and fishing. It was part of the first 8,100 acres purchased as
a national forest east of the Mississippi following the Weeks Act of 1911. This law authorized
the purchase of public lands in order to protect watersheds of navigable streams. The Curtis
Creek campground has tent pads, grills, and pit toilets. The elevation here at the tent-only
campground has been quote as both 1,800 and 1,900 ft. Some of the campsites are nestled
in dense woods giving excellent privacy and a wilderness experience without some of the
inconveniences. Sites are first-come, first-served, and a fee is required to camping. Since this
is bear country, and I have seen a bear once crossing the road, protect your food in proper
There are three “official” trails that lead through steep hardwood and hemlock forests to the
ridges that surround Curtis Creek with several old logging road trails not on the maps These
are backcountry trails and for the most part are not are not blazed. Snooks Noose and
Hickory Branch trails start near the campground. Mackey Mountain Trail starts where FS-482
and FS-1188 meet.
I have only hiked Hickory Branch Trail, which leads to Hickory Branch Falls. This is a moderate
hike with plenty of steep uphill climbs. The terminus begins at the edge of the woods at
the backside of the campground near a concrete pad. At the trail sign climb the very steep
hillside then follow it downhill to the stream. Cross the stream and continue on the trail as it
climbs in steady uphill after 0.5 mile or so. There are several stream crossings, but they are easy.
The main waterfall will be on your right side as you climb up the steep ridge. Descend down to
the stream to get the best view of the falls. I didn’t take the exact trail distance to the waterfall
so I’m estimating it’s ~ 1 mile.
The upper cascades are a short distance upstream from the main waterfall. They are small but
are worth a photo. I haven’t hiked any further upstream than the upper cascades. What I did
notice on my hike to the falls in mid-September of 2005 were plentiful leaves and seedpods of
past bloomed wildflowers. A return visit to this area in the spring would likely provide plenty of
shooting opportunities for wildflowers.
|Map showing Curtis Creek Campground and Hickory Branch Falls Trail
From Interstate 40, take the exit at Old Fort. Go 0.2 miles into town and turn right on US 70.
Drive ~1 mile to the intersection of US 70 and Curtis Creek Service Rd (SR 1227). There will be
a sign for Curtis Creek on the left near the intersection. Turn left onto SR 1227 which becomes
FS-482 after about 3.5 miles. At this point you enter the Pisgah National Forest. The
campground is 5.1 miles from the US 70.
FS-482 is steep with sharp curves and follows Curtis Creek to the Blue Ridge Parkway near
milepost 344 and Highway 80. Coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway, turn onto FS-482 near
milepost 344 and Highway 80. The area is open from April 11 through December 31. Hurricane
Francis in 2004 washed away part of FS-482 and as of September 2005 that part the Forest
Service Rd north of the campground up to the BRP was still closed.
For more information: U.S. Forest Service District Ranger, Route 1, Box 110A, Nebo, NC 28761.
Phone (704) 652-2144.
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