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U.S. Forest Service

Southern Region Viewing Area


Woodland stonecrop. Woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum). Photo by Bill Lea.

Red Trillium. Red Trillium (Trillium erectum). Photo by Gary Kauffman.

Dwarf larkspur. Dwarf larkspur (white form) (Delphinium tricorne). Photo by Gary Kauffman.

Paint Fork Road / Jack Branch Trail / River Ridge Loop Trail

Forest: Pisgah National Forest

District: Appalachian Ranger District

Description: Paint Fork Road (state route 1304) parallels the French Broad River. The area is underlain by a complex geology of limestone, shale, dolomite, quartz, and slate. As a result a diversity of plant species and communities are evident along the road. Many protected coves north of Paint Fork Road have a colorful display of spring wildflowers. The coves are most apparent from 2.6 miles west of the intersection with U.S. 25/70 to the Tennessee border. The abundant wildflowers include jack-in-the-pulpit, yellow mandarin, wild geranium, black cohosh, blue cohosh, bloodroot, Clinton’s lily, horsebalm, Vasey’s trillium, wild astilbe, large-flowered bellwort, spiderwort, miterwort, green violet, mock orange, wild petunia, and showy orchid.

Jacks Branch Trail is a moderate to difficult trail climbing a steep rocky south-facing slope. A grass-dominated plant community persists along portions of the trail. Common grasses and sedges include little bluestem, poverty oat grass, Indian grass, needle grass, and Pennsylvania sedge. Interesting wildflowers include wild petunia, butterfly-weed, American bellflower, butterfly-pea, erect dayflower, whitlow-grass, thimbleweed, flowering spurge, fire-pink, wavy-leaved aster, and greater coreopsis. Jacks Branch trail climbs 2.4 miles to the ridge and is only recommended for experienced rugged hikers.

In comparison, River Ridge Loop Trail, connecting to the lower slope portion of Jacks Branch Trail, is less steep and traverses 1.3 mile along a loop. Best time to enjoy: late March to late April for the cove wildflowers along Paint Fork Road, July through September for the two trails.

Safety First:The Pisgah National Forest receives high recreational use throughout the summer, and traffic along the forest roads can be heavy, especially near developed facilities. Weather in the southern Appalachians is generally mild but wet, with abundant rainfall throughout the year. Higher elevations, however, can experience cold, wet weather at any time during the year. As a result, adequate rain gear and warm clothes are recommended, even during the summer. In addition, trails in the region are often rocky, and require supportive shoes and sure footing.

Although the area contains abundant streams, all surface water should be treated before drinking or cooking. Carry and drink plenty of fluids, and use sunscreen on exposed skin, especially at higher elevations. Biting insects are generally not a problem. Mosquitoes and ticks are present, but usually not a nuisance. Both mosquito and tick bites can transmit diseases, however, and appropriate measures, such as long clothing and repellants, should be used. Gnats are ubiquitous during the growing season, and often become a nuisance, due to both their numbers as well as their persistence. Wildlife encounters with large animals such as black bears and wild boar are unusual but potentially very dangerous. Please take necessary precautions while hiking outdoors.

Directions: From Hot Springs, North Carolina, take U.S. Highway 25/70 east across the French Broad River and take the first left on Paint Rock Road. The Murray Branch Picnic area at the Jacks Branch trailhead is on the right approximately 3.5 miles west of the intersection. Picnic tables, bathrooms, drinking water, and boating access to the French Broad River is available at the site.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Pisgah National Forest, Appalachian Ranger District.

Closest Town: Hot Springs, North Carolina.