Douglas Falls (Big Ivy South Tour) Ride
This is a leisurely gravel road cruising through lush forests with cascading streams brings you to the Douglas Falls trail, a 1/2 mile hike to a 60-foot, free-falling waterfall. Return on a less-traveled gravel road and pick up a little-used, steep, technical downhill for a fun finish.
At A Glance
Tread Condition: Moderately Rough
Climb: Climbs Moderately
Total Elevation Gain: 900
Configuration: Loop on gravel roads and old roadbed with out-and-back road and trail extension to falls, and a portion of that is hiking only.
Starting Point: Parking area for Staire Creek and Bear Pen trails on FR 74.
From Asheville, take US 19-23 north (4-lane) for about 11 miles. Take the Jupiter/Barnardsville (NC 197) exit. Turn right toward Barnardsville and follow NC 197 (2-lane highway) about 6 miles to the town of Barnardsville. Turn right onto Dillingham Road just past the fire station. It's about 6 miles to the National Forest--stay on Dillingham Road. You will cross a one-lane bridge and the road will turn into gravel FR 74. Pass the picnic area on the right, and drive 5.2 miles up this scenic, bumpy gravel road to the parking area as the road rounds a ridge. Note: this road may be unexpectedly gated in the winter just past the picnic area, during extremely wet or snowy weather. You will not be able to drive to the parking area if it is closed. Watch the mileage and then look for the trails. See a map for getting there.
Park the vehicle and continue along FR 74 to begin the ride. The road immediately heads downhill, plunging you headlong into the beautiful, lush forest. You'll cross one branch of Staire Creek, and a nice cascade is upstream on the left. Gently climbing, you'll cross another rushing tributary of Staire Creek and head for the next crossing. Before you make the last crossing, though, look right, downhill, and you can catch a glimpse of a large cascading waterfall. Finally, you will cross the last branch of Staire Creek; another waterfall is small but just off the roadside to the left.
By now you are heading for the crest of Locust Ridge, which tries to dry out but can't help but to sprout a strong spring, roadside left. It is piped, but resist the urge to guzzle the cold, clear water without treating it (nasty life forms may or may not live in the water). Continue on around the relatively flat ridge, gently climbing. This ridge is long, and divides two large watersheds. The one you are heading into is even more rugged and remote than the one you've been in. Heading east into the next cove, you will pass by the entrance to the Laurel Gap "trail." Keep straight to begin the out-and-back portion of the ride.
The road will undulate and begin crossing creeks again, where (you guessed it) there are more cascades. Start climbing along Bullhead Ridge, which will take you to a graffiti covered concrete wall on the right. Finally, the road dead ends in a parking lot. Leading out of the back of the parking lot is the Douglas Falls trail, it is HIKING ONLY! Leave your bike (preferably locked to a sturdy tree) and walk down this easy trail about .5 mi. to the falls. A sight well worth this diversion, the stream plunges off a huge overhanging rock bluff, falling 70 feet through midair in front of a huge rock cave, surrounded by a virgin hemlock forest and gigantic trees. Return along the same trail.
Pick up your bike and head back on FR 74 to the Laurel Gap trail. Turn right onto this grassy old road, which goes uphill, and ride around the gate. From here on out, the ride passes through an area that is very remote, so don't expect to see crowds. In fact, feel lucky if you see another soul. And get used to dripping wet rocks. There's not much to say about this road except it's long, tedious, and grassy. The forest is recently logged and crowded with small trees; views of the Blue Ridge Parkway far above are possible to the right and ahead of you. The road will head downhill eventually, and you will be able to pick up enough speed to do the turns some justice. At about mile 7 (the road is still going downhill), be on the lookout for the Bear Pen trail which heads left. It is a signed intersection.
Upon turning onto this trail, you are immediately back in the forest on a technical, steep, fun downhill trail. The trail follows an old logging roadbed and other old roadbeds head off in all directions, so it's up to you to stay on the trail. It's fairly obvious, because the other roadbeds have large trees growing on them due to lack of use. But the trail is overgrown in places, so pick weeds over trees to stay on track. Otherwise, it's a great downhill. You will reach the first and only wet creek crossing on this ride (you actually have to ride through the water--no pipe here). Next, to finish off a great ride, is a great section of trail with many large whoop-te-doo's that launch the willing rider into midair. Popping out of the wilderness onto the road can be startling, or quite welcome, as you finish up the ride.
All Photos from This Ride
Green highlight indicates the route to follow within the trail network for this ride.
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