This is going to be a combined trip report for a weekend trip that started in Turkey Pen Gap trail head in Pisgah National Forrest NC near Etowah, NC as well as a gear review for a cinch buckle suspension system in a claytor jungle hammock.
This trip took place from Friday at 7:30pm until Sunday at 4:30pm with 2 hikers. I didn't plan this trip and I don't have a map of the area with me so please forgive me if I don't get the trail names exactly right.
We arrived at the Turkey Pen parking area a little later than planned but it didn't affect us too much. The road up to Turkey Pen is a dirt/gravel road and is pretty rough at the bottom. I personally wouldn't take a car up it but there were several at the parking area so it can be done. The road is also very narrow so be careful with cars coming the opposite direction.
There are several trails that start at the parking area and I believe we started on the Mills River Trail but I could be wrong here. It started right next to the map and it was the most traveled and obvious of the bunch. As we got ready several other people were getting ready to head in as well and everything seemed fine until we noticed that each of these campers was also carrying a 12 pack of PBR. We hurried and got ahead of these "campers". The start of the trail is all downhill until you reach the valley floor and there you see a nice campsite and a few trails. We continued on Mills Creek trail for a total of about 40 mins of hiking the first night. We made camp right next to the river as most of the established sites seemed to be very close to the river.
After setting up camp we broke out the fly rods and fished for a while near camp. My friend and I like to fish but do not claim to be professionals and we did not spend a ton of time fishing on this trip but also did not catch anything. After Dark we cooked dinner and admired the stars and extremely bright crescent moon and went to bed. This was one of the few places on the trip we could see the sky as we were in a field by the river with very few trees.
The next morning we continued on the Mills River Trail stopping to admire the river and make a few casts. We past tons and tons of great campsites along this trail with plenty of places to hang or set up tents. As you can probably tell water was also quite plentiful. After starting this trip I am not sure we were out of earshot one time of water, maybe at one portion but still not very far from it. At lunch we reached and old and large chimney that remained from a lodge that I believe the Vanderbilt's built as this was once part of Biltmore forest and is not far from the cradle of forestry. The lodge was built in 1890.
From here we left the mills river trail which was very wide and very well traveled. It was wide enough that we walked side by side on it. All the trails we hiked this weekend were mixed use trails that allowed hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It seemed though that most only ventured as far as the chimney and turned back as from this point at about 11:30 Saturday morning we didn't see another person until Sunday afternoon.
Our new trail was horse cove trail which we followed still along a river but a tributary of mills river so it was much smaller. The hardest uphill portion of the trip was on this trail and the humidity made it much worse. It was uncommonly hot this weekend for the mountains but we were also at low elevations on this trip as after this particular uphill section we never got above 3000 feet again. This trip offered up no big vistas but did offer plenty of beautiful woodland and river scenery. This however is not a trip for anyone looking for big mountain views.
At the top of the ridge we came to another intersection and we got on Squirrel Gap trail. This took us back down to mills river and we reached it at about 4:00. There were several trail intersections here and some great campsites. We set up camp relaxed and then fished until about 7. Let it also be known it would be very easy to stealth camp as well if you are not into established campsites.
The next morning we set out to complete our loop by jumping back on the mills river trail. Now up to this point the blaze for mills river has been white just as it is indicated on the map. There was a sign that pointed to the mills river trail and we started out on this until we saw a orange blaze. Then we turned back and wondered how we got on the wrong trail. We then explored about 5 other trails in the area none however were blazed white. So we decided to go with the orange blaze and the sign. This trail was the only one that seemed to follow the river so we took that one and hoped. After the initial blaze we did not pass another one, this was weird b/c up to this point the trails were all well marked and well traveled. This trail was not blazed and was very overgrown.
Then we came to our first river crossing. Up to this point all river crossings had a suspension bridge for hikers and a ford for horses. Be forewarned that almost all the bridges had bees living under them and bouncing on the bridges only stirred them up. My buddy got stung 4 times all on the bridges. I was never stung but he couldn't seem to master crossing the bridge without making it bounce. Now this crossing was just one of 8 that required us to change shoes and wade through water that was about mid to upper thigh deep. I am also 6"4 so it may be deeper for some of you, bring water shoes you will need them. We continued on this overgrown and narrow trail only fairly certain we were on the right one. The canopy is to thick to do a triangulation or take a bearing form any other peak. Around lunch we passed a group on horseback who confirmed we were on the right trail and we felt much better.
Eventually it spit us back out next to the old chimney and we continued our hike back to the car. In all we covered 8-9 miles Sunday and with a long swim break towards the end of our trip we returned to the car at about 4:30.
Great trip and some really great fishing holes. Most of the hike is very flat and would also make for some great day trips as well. Good luck and happy hiking.