Trip Report: Pink Beds and Waterfall on Barnett Branch

On Sunday, May 3, 2015, we headed out for a family hike in the Davidson River area of the Pisgah National Forest. We were looking for a moderate, family-friendly hike that woudn’t take too long (since — after all — it was a school night!)

So, we chose a picnic at the Pink Beds Picnic Area, followed by a hike around the inner half of the Pink Beds Loop Trail. It’s a relatively flat trail for the mountains, making it kid-friendly. Plus, the trail passes lots of water features — puddles, streams, bridges, bogs — which can be teeming with wildlife at certain times of the year. We were hoping to spot some.

The weather was quite pleasant — mostly cloudy, low 70’s and a very light breeze.

Trail Sign and Map at Pink Beds
Trail Sign and Map at Pink Beds. We hiked the left side of the orange loop, cutting across on the blue trail, with an out-and-back stretch across the yellow road to a waterfall, which is underneath the "S" on this map.

We were just in time for the mass white Trillium bloom. They were everywehere! They tend to grow individually, but they stand out considerably against the darker forest floor, and when we found a patch of them it was just spectacular!

White Trillium at Pink Beds
White Trillium at Pink Beds

We started with the south side of the loop. It’s pretty much the definition of a leisurely hike. Besides the numerous wildflowers, we did manage to spot a number of tadpoles and a salamander in the pools under the boardwalk the trail crosses.

Beyond the boardwalk, the trail follows the fledgling South Mills River for a ways. Large trees, thickets of doghobble, and patches of wildflowers spruced up this portion of the hike.

Bluets Beside Tree Trunk
A patch of bluets growing beside a huge tree trunk, between the Pink Beds Trail and the South Mills River.

Before long, we arrived at the point where the Barnett Branch trail cuts across the middle of the Pink Beds Loop Trail. You can use that trail to shorten the loop, and that’s what we did. The Barnett Branch trail immediately crosses a very long boardwalk and the South Mills River again, and then emerges into some drier forests on the other side as a wide trail. More trilliums were growing there.

Barnett Branch Trail reaches the northern half of the Pink Beds loop in short order. But instead of turning left, to head back to the parking area, we continued straight on Barnett Branch Trail. We still had a little time, and there’s a waterfall not far up the trail that I wanted to check out with spring green leaves on the trees.

This portion of our hike was a gradual climb, but it’s nothing serious. We crossed FS 475 (Yellow Gap Road) and continued up Barnett Branch Trail on the other side, and then edged up into a cove below the Pisgah Ridge. At a switchback, just before the trail begins the serious climb up the ridge, we arrived at our destination. A very short spur trail to the left of that switchback ends at a nice waterfall.

Waterfall Beside the Barnett Branch Trail
Waterfall Beside the Barnett Branch Trail

We spent some time hanging out at the falls, having a snack, and snapping pictures before returning back down the Barnett Branch trail across Yellow Gap Road and to the Pink Beds Loop Trail, where we now turned right toward the parking area.

From that junction it’s a tame hike back to the trailhead on the northern part of the Pink Beds Loop Trail, but with a few more hills than the southern part. None are strenuous. We crossed Bearwallow Brook, a lovely stream that feeds into the South Mills River shortly downstream from the crossing. We also crossed some smaller tributaries, some of which pour off the trail through some neat water control structures made out of logs. I snapped a picture of one of those on an earlier hike:

Noth cut into a log and used as a water control structure

The other notable features along this stretch of trail are the meadows that are kept clear as wildlife openings. If you’re lucky you’ll spot some local fauna in them, but this time all we saw were these pretty dogwoods growing beside the trail and meadows.

Dogwood and Pink Beds Loop Trail
Dogwood and Pink Beds Loop Trail

From the meadows, it was just a short jaunt back to the end of the trail and the parking area. It was a perfect hike for the family and highly recommended if you’re in the area!

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