NC Trail Riding - N. Mills River
Pisgah National Forest
As the hot summer months end, many equestrians start to search for some of the best trail riding locations to see the fall colors and enjoy the cooler weather. The Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, NC offers trail riders many opportunities to experience the beauty of the fall season and today I'm going to go over the North Mills River trails.
- From Interstate 26, head south on Hwy 280 towards the Asheville Airport.
- Go south about 8 miles and just past the intersection for 191 North, you will make a right (north) onto N. Mills River Rd.
- Go about 5 miles to the North Mills River Campground.
- When entering the campground, directly on your right is a small section along the side of the road where it is marked for horse trailers to park. You can chose to park there and ride up through the campground towards the Riverside Trail Head which is located after the bridge on your right. For all other trails...
- Continue straight until you see the campground parking on your left, there will be a paved road on your right hand side (Wash Creek Rd - it is not marked as such though) with a small, brown sign that says 5000. Turn right here to head up towards the Trace Ridge Trail Head.
- You will continue up this road almost 2 miles. The road becomes a gravel road and becomes narrow. You will pass several campsites, and there are some pot holes so be careful and drive slow (less than 15mph).
- Once you come to a fork in the road, stay to the left towards the low, concrete bridge to head up towards the Trace Ridge Trail Head parking lot. WARNING! This is a small lot and can become crowded and may be difficult to turn any sized trailer around. If you want, instead of heading toward the bridge, park along the side of the road at the fork (there is an area to your right where you can back up and turn around and then park) and then just ride up towards the entrance.
There are many trail options, but here is the loop that I chose to do which took approximately 3 hours at only a walk (non-gaited horse) and was roughly 7.8 miles. Although I actually performed this trail backwards (starting with the Trace Ridge Trail first and ending with the Fletcher Creek Trail), I would have preferred to do the trail this way:
- Fletcher Creek Trail (Blue) begins at the Trace Ridge Trail parking lot. I describe this trail as easy for any level rider. The trail starts off on Fletcher Creek Road and is a wide, gravel road that runs along stream side. The road then opens up to some fields where it becomes less rocky and is a great place to ride in a faster gait as the terrain is level. The trail veers off to the right away from the gravel road and is marked clearly with blue markers. Here, the trail climbs moderately, but there is little sections of large rock and should be fairly easy for most horses. 2.4 miles.
- Fletcher Creek Trail crosses with Spencer Branch Trail (yellow). If you are following my trail guide, you will make a right onto Spencer Branch Trail. I describe this trail as moderate/difficult (the difficult part is just the last section). This trail travels alongside the steep sides of the cove, but the trails are not too rocky and is mostly compacted clay and provides good footing. The middle section of the trail crosses over the stream several times, but the streams are low and not difficult. Some rocks in this area, but again, not extremely challenging. This section was one of my favorite parts of the area as you can hear and see the streams clearly. The last section of this trail is very steep, rocky, and can be very challenging even to the most experienced trail horses/riders. It isn't a very large portion of your ride, but it will definitely be the part you won't forget! Let your horse take his time and let him take a break if he needs it (mine certainly did!). 2.3 miles
- Trace Ridge Trail (Orange) is located at the top of Spencer Branch Trail. You will make a right onto the trail and you will now be walking along the top ridge of the mountain. I describe this trail as moderate/difficult. There are many instances where you will be going down for a long periods of time and up for long periods of time over large, rocky, narrow, and some washed out areas. There are several logs you must walk over, and some instances where you will only be walking on actual pieces of large stone which can be scary! This trail is much more narrow that the other trails, and it will sometimes seem like it closes in on you. There are also some areas that are a little more clear where you can get off to take a quick break and rest. My horse needed a couple breaks as it was difficult when ascending some of these hills. You are, of course, going up and down a mountain! 3.1 miles
Here are some items that I recommend bringing with you on the trail to make your life easier:
- Jacket - it can get chilly out there unexpectedly!
- Hoof pick - with all of the rocks, you never know
- A replacement for a lost shoe - such as duct tape or an Easy Boot, Old Mac, Cavallo, etc...
- Vet wrap/guaze - for cuts and scrapes along the way
- Water/snacks - you will more than likely get hungry!
- Bug repellant - for you and your horse
- Halter/lead - you never know when one can become handy. I normally keep a rope halter and lead on my horse at all times when trail riding so that I can easily take off just my bridle so my horse can graze while I take a break, or tie him if I need to easily. Carrying one in my saddle bag takes up too much room and becomes heavy and bulky.
- Coggins - you never know if a ranger will ask for it
Here are some other tips that I recommend:
- Make sure your horse is shod on all four feet! He will definitely need it, or make sure you have some kind of protective boots and make sure they fit correctly!
- Condition your horse. No one would expect you to go out and play an entire game of soccer or run a marathon without first practicing for it. So don't be just a weekend warrior and expect your horse to sit in the pasture or stall all year and once a year expect that horse to then ride for 8 miles up a mountain carrying you on his back! A horse is an athlete, and these trails definitely take an athletic individual to travel them. Exercise and condition your horse before hitting the trails.
- Make sure your horse is up-to-date on all of his shots and de-worming. There are many other horses riding these trails, and many other people and animals. They all bring diseases, so make sure your horse is up to date.
- With such small areas to park and work with at the trail heads, make sure your horse is well behaved and trained to do what you need and want him to do. Sure, you can't predict everything, but if you know your horse is a poor loader, don't use the parking lot to start training him to load. Or if your horse has never seen a bicycle before, I wouldn't recommend using these trails (or any) to introduce him to them. Many of the trails are very narrow, and you will more than likely cross a cyclist and their dogs. Make sure your horse is accustomed to seeing these things as you don't want to spook him in such confined spaces.