A few miles from the ranger station, you drive beside Looking Glass Falls. Right beside it. You don’t have to get out of your car to see this beauty, but you’d be crazy not to. Walk down the steps to the base of the falls and feel the cold spray on your face.
One mile farther up the road is the trailhead for Moore Cove Falls, another beauty. You’re going to have to walk a little to see this one, but the three-quarter-mile hike is well worth it. While you’re out of the car, look at the elaborate stonework on the auto bridge over Looking Glass Creek. This bridge, like many others along the route, is a product of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program of the Depression era, in which local men worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to reclaim forested, mined, and otherwise wasted lands. They were also instrumental in building much of the infrastructure of our national forests and parks. You’ll see the hard work of the CCC all along this route.
If making this drive in the middle of a summer day, you won’t need anyone to tell you when you get to Sliding Rock. Once you encounter the traffic jams and see the crowds of smiling kids and more than a few adults you’ll know you’re at one of Pisgah National
Forest’s most popular attractions. Don’t even try to fight it; just throw on some old jeans shorts and have at it. A few trips over this natural waterslide will take at least ten years off you for a little while. When you wake up the next morning and realize you’re too old for that sort of thing, you’ll already be a hero to your kids. Just remember one thing: that water is colder than a, well, let’s just say it’s cold.
Next up is the Cradle of Forestry in America, where Dr. Schenck operated his forestry school. Plan on taking several hours to explore this historical site fully. From the Cradle of Forestry, the road climbs to Wagon Road Gap, where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses overhead, and then it heads down the other side of the ridge toward the community of Bethel. That mountain looming in the distance is Cold Mountain, part of Shining Rock Wilderness. Yes, that’s the same one Charles Frazier made famous, and yes, it can be cold up there. At an elevation of 6,030 feet, the summit experiences a different weather pattern than the valleys below. The ranger station back near the start of the route offers a superb map of the wilderness area that shows all the trails leading to the mountain’s summit.
On the west side of Cold Mountain, NC Highway 215 takes you over picturesque Lake Logan. Now the home of an Episcopal retreat, the lake and surrounding land were once part of an enormous logging operation that employed some four hundred men. The lake covers the old sawmill site. Just beyond the lake, the road twists and climbs through West Fork Pigeon River Gorge, sometimes called the Yosemite of the East. Were it not for the forested slopes, the steep mountains through the gorge would indeed resemble those of the western park. Watch for waterfalls and trailheads as you climb through the gorge.