Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on November 2, 2023.
The 65-mile-long Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway is one of the most beautiful scenic roads you’ll find in Western North Carolina. Beyond the tree-lined picturesque roads that make up this byway, there are some wonderful things to do that will prompt you to get out of your car and explore.
Here’s how we’ve organized this guide, in case you’re looking for something specific:
- The Forest Heritage Byway at a Glance
- Intersections and Access Points
- Highlights (Things to Do)
- The Waterfall Byway (Bonus Nearby Scenic Road)
- More Things to Do Nearby (Related Posts)
Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway at a Glance
The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway runs primarily along NC-215 and US-276. It originates from the intersections with US-64 near Rosman and Brevard. This road travels from those two points through Transylvania and Haywood Counties, south of Waynesville and west of Asheville.
The northern end of the Byway is where NC-215 and US-276 intersect with NC-110. From start to finish, the drive takes about 2 hours straight through.
There are plenty of reasons you should extend your time on this road. Check out the collection of waterfalls, campgrounds, scenic picnic spots, and watering holes for fishing featured along this route. There are also a couple of opportunities for you to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Forest Heritage Scenic Byway Intersections and Access Points
You can access the North Carolina Scenic Byway from a few different places, including the following intersections:
- US 276 North from the US 64/N.C. 280 intersection near Brevard. One reason we’d suggest starting the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway here is because the Pisgah National Forest Ranger Station is just 1.5 miles from the intersection.
- Highway 215 NC with US 64 near Rosman (Hwy 215 NC)
- 2 Intersections with the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 423.3 via NC 215 and Milepost 412 via US-276).
- NC-110 with US 276 and NC 215: If you’re driving from Asheville, take I-40 W and get off at exit 37 (E Canton). Follow NC-110 S for nearly 6 miles until you reach the intersection for both US 276 and NC 215.
List of Forest Heritage Scenic Byway Stops (Things to Do)
These are the best Forest Heritage Scenic Byway highlights, starting with one of the most interesting places to visit in North Carolina.
- Cradle of Forestry
- Hiking Trails (Non-Waterfall Ones)
- Fly Fishing
- Picnic Spots
Cradle of Forestry
Address: 11250 Pisgah Hwy, Pisgah Forest, NC
The Cradle of Forestry sits off US-276 of the Byway, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s even a Cradle of Forestry Overlook (MP 410) awaiting you if you turn right onto the Parkway toward Mount Pisgah.
This place was the first of its kind in North America to exercise “practical forestry.” When it’s open from April 21 to November, you can visit and explore many hands-on exhibits for all ages and learn about forestry yourself! There are also trails, a cafe, and a gift shop to enjoy here.
The Adventure Zone exhibit is a collaboration between The Autism Society of North Carolina, FIND Outdoors, and the USDA Forest Service provides hands-on outdoor learning for ASD adults and children.
We’ve broken them down geographically by waterfalls that sit along US-276 and then those along NC-215.
- Looking Glass Falls
- Moore Cove Falls
- Sliding Rock
- French Broad River Falls
- Sunburst Falls
Here are the amazing Forest Heritage Scenic Byway waterfalls along US-276.
Looking Glass Falls
If you’re driving up US-276 from Brevard, Looking Glass Falls is about 6 miles from the entrance. It’s one of the first big-name waterfalls you’ll come across on the Byway.
This 60-foot waterfall is one of the most popular in North Carolina and for good reason! Looking Glass Falls is easy to access, as you can drive right up and enjoy the beautiful view from the road.
Of course, you can walk down the steps to get a closer look. This stunning waterfall is a place you must visit at least once!
Moore Cove Falls
One mile up from Looking Glass Falls is the Moore Cove Falls Trailhead. It marks a fun and easy 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to this waterfall.
Sometimes, Moore Cove Falls is less waterfall and more trickle, but this 50-foot waterfall is still worth visiting. We recommend visiting after periods of rainfall so you can see the falls rushing down, but it’s difficult to plan that if you aren’t from the area.
Moore Cove is one of the few waterfalls you can walk behind, but we recommend caution and proper footwear if you plan to do so. There will be signs reminding you of the dangers, so please think twice before taking any risks.
Another mile down from Moore Cove Falls Trail is Sliding Rock, the popular natural waterslide. People flock from all over to slide down this 60-foot stone into the chilly 7-foot deep pool.
Times and hours change, but there is usually a $4 admission fee (free for ages three or younger) and a lifeguard on duty from April through October. It is free to enter during the off-season, but the amenities are closed, and there are NO lifeguards on duty.
On nice weekdays and weekends, you can expect huge crowds to arrive, so try to get there as early as possible and prepare to wait for your turn to slide down.
Here are some lovely waterfalls that you’ll find along the NC-215 portion of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway.
French Broad River Falls
The last set of waterfalls we’ll mention along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway sits off the NC-215 side. Also known as Mill Shoals, French Broad Falls are twin waterfalls that rush below an iconic bright-red former mill.
The falls sit on private property, but the owners (Living Waters Ministry) are kind enough to allow the public to enjoy the views. Please keep the area clean, so they will continue to permit us to visit! We urge pack-in/pack-out for all places along the Byway, but especially at French Broad Falls.
There’s also a bonus waterfall only a 1/4-mile trek downstream. The 15-foot Bird Rock Falls, also known as Cathedral Falls, is encapsulated by a large rock face.
Sunburst Falls is in Haywood County, North Carolina, and is a breathtaking roadside waterfall. It can be found along the NC Highway 215 portion of the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway.
This picturesque route has lots of opportunities to pull over and savor the beauty of the cold mountain streams. The waterfall cascades over multiple tiers before descending into the valley below, passing through a historic stone bridge dating back to 1937.
Please exercise caution when walking near the road to get a closer look at this natural wonder. While it is possible to access the base, I personally couldn’t identify any secure or easily navigable paths for descent. These photos were taken using a drone and not from the waterfall’s base.
Hiking Trails (Non-Waterfall Ones)
There are also many non-waterfall hiking trails along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Here are a couple of hikes that you should know about.
We have also included them in our guide covering some of the best hikes near Asheville.
John Rock Trail
Hike Distance: 5.7 miles round trip
John Rock Trail is an intermediate hike that starts and ends at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. There’s an offshoot trail you can venture on that leads to Cedar Rock Falls.
You’ll climb about 1,000 feet throughout the 5.7-mile loop. Magnificent views await you at the top, including views of Looking Glass Rock.
Looking Glass Rock Trail
Hike Distance: 6.5 miles round trip
The Looking Glass Rock Trail near the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education is also accessible from the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. It isn’t easy, as you’ll climb over 1,700 feet of elevation in 3 miles, but it’s one of the most rewarding hikes in the area.
Pink Beds Trail
Pink Beds Trail is an easy 5-mile loop with ample picnic areas near the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance off US-276. It’s dog and kid-friendly and is very popular on weekends and nice weekdays.
The trail is named for the blooming pink wildflowers, such as mountain laurel and rhododendron, that dot the path. You’ll also hike around a few creeks along the way.
As with the Cradle of Forestry, there’s a Pink Beds Blue Ridge Parkway overlook at MP 410.
Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway is also peppered with plenty of great spots for fly fishing. The Davidson River off US-276 is well-known for its trophy-sized brown trout, making it one of the best fly fishing spots in North Carolina.
If you prefer solitude and don’t mind smaller fish, head upstream to the hatchery. For bigger fish, you’ll want to be downstream from the hatchery.
Beat the crowds by camping along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Two highly regarded campgrounds are the Davidson River Campground off US-276 and the Sunburst Campground off NC-215.
Davidson River Campground
The Davidson River Campground consists of several loops of campgrounds. This spot is great for hikers of all levels, as they have easy roundtrip trails to more intermediate ones.
This is also the go-to camp for fly fishing. There are spots for tubing and swimming for the whole family as well!
Before it was Sunburst Campground, this area was once a logging camp. Here, you can find nine primitive campsites near the Pigeon River and West Fork River, all of which offer a quiet spot to rest and become one with nature.
Along with tent pads, there are picnic tables and a bathhouse on-site.
There are quite a few picnic spots to lunch at as you drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Here are a couple of named ones that offer additional amenities beyond just a place to eat.
We mentioned the Pink Beds Trail already but thought you should know a little more about the Pink Beds Picnic Area, too!
After finishing the Pink Beds Trail, choose from two shelters and 21 picnic tables to rest at. The area offers both shaded and non-shaded areas for a lovely lunch outside.
Another picnic spot we love along is the Coontree Picnic Area. Here, you’ll find 10 picnic tables, restrooms, and access to Coontree Creek.
After your lunch, you can swim, tube, or fish here!
The Blue Ridge Parkway
As we’ve mentioned, there are multiple crossovers between the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The NC-215 and US-276 intersections are about 11 miles apart from each other on the Parkway.
Here are some popular stops nearby.
Highlights closest to the US-276 side include the Pisgah Inn (MP 408), where you can enjoy a delicious meal and epic views. Speaking of epic views, you’ll pass the accessible Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower (MP 409) and the Cold Mountain Overlook (MP 411.9).
The two intersections offer neat hikes and overlooks, such as the Looking Glass Rock Overlook (MP 417). Across the Parkway is the Skinny Dip Falls Trailhead. Continue south, and you’ll come across the Graveyard Fields Trailhead, as well as the road that leads to the Black Balsam Knob section of the Art Loeb Trail.
The Devil’s Courthouse hike (MP 422.4) is also close to the NC-215 intersection with the Parkway. If you keep driving south, you’ll ascend to the Richland Balsam Overlook (MP 431.4), the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway at 6,047 feet.
The Waterfall Byway (Bonus Nearby Scenic Road)
You can also drive to Murphy on the Waterfall Byway from the NC-215 intersection with US-64 near Rosman. This 98-mile road comprises many more waterfalls than the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and will take about 3 and 1/2 hours to complete.
You’ll end up spending more time here, though, considering the roughly 200 waterfalls that await!
There are too many waterfalls to name, but a few lovely ones along the way include Toxaway Falls, the roadside Bridal Veil Falls (not the one inside DuPont State Forest), and Dry Falls. Lake Sequoyah near Highlands is another beautiful attraction to visit.
This road will also take you through the towns of Cashiers, Highlands, and Franklin, each a wonderful base for your journey.
Ready to Explore the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway?
We love driving the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and always seem to find something new to explore along this route. Hopefully, you’re able to drive along this road at some point, too!
Of course, we hope that you’re able to park and go for a hike, picnic, or even stay at a campground, as that will add to the experience.
If you’ve ever driven on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, we’d love to know what you think of this stunning road. If you’ve never been on it, what’s the first thing you want to see along the way?