White squirrels, black bears and waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

After two nights in Asheville, I was ready to leave that town of bohemians and vagabonds and breweries to get back into nature. A week earlier, at the Orlando U.S. Travel Association IPW convention, a tourism representative from North Carolina told me I should visit Dupont State Forest to see waterfalls. He had great images of large waterfalls in the woods. After getting an early start out of Asheville, I spent my morning chasing waterfalls to see where movies like The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans were filmed in western North Carolina.

High Falls

I had a long way to travel to reach Gatlinburg, Tennessee by 6pm for a dinner show appointment. Western North Carolina is a tough area to navigate with or without GPS. My iPhone kept wanting me to backtrack to Asheville to drive the 100 miles to Gatlinburg, Tennessee via Interstate 40. I looked at maps and punched in any town about 30 miles away that took me westerly, directly through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

After DuPont State Forest I drove west, winding around mountain sides for some miles and down into a valley, into the quaint town of Brevard. Three things I learned about Brevard during my two hours hanging out and eating lunch.

1. White squirrels are the town mascots. I wasted an hour hanging out in Brevard searching for white squirrels on the Brevard College campus.

white squirrel

2. Steve Martin has a Brevard home, actor/comedian/author and musician, another white squirrel of sorts, long known for his white hair. According to locals, he is sometimes seen around town.

3. Oskar Blues Brewery from Colorado established a Brevard, North Carolina brewery in 2012. California’s Sierra Nevada Brewery set up an east coast operation in Asheville. This region of western North Carolina is a big brewery center.

I photographed two Brevard squirrels during an hour searching at mid-day for the elusive white rodent.

Brevard squirrel     white squirrel Brevard

My Brevard squirrel photos. Live action brown and stuffed white. The only white squirrels I saw were in the Brevard Transylvania Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Authority office. Their official tourism website is aptly named

visitwaterfalls Transylvania website

Pisgah National Forest North Carolina

Out of Brevard and a left turn onto U.S. Route 276 took me into the wilderness on my way through Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. Another distraction pulled me off the road in a short detour to see the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. Turns out the site is primarily for school children tours with a film and small indoor display area of stuffed local animals and a short nature trail outdoors in the forest with large open fish hatchery tanks beside the center.

One of the great sights I saw on my trip were a dozen or so large raptors circling high over the hills surrounding the Wildlife Center.

I was startled when I glanced through the trees in the forest to see this black bear standing on a rock nearby.

black bear

I sent this photo to my wife without stating it was a taxidermed bear exhibit outside on the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education trail.

No joke though was the fact that around 14 hours before I had my dead bear encounter in the woods, a live black bear pulled a 16-year old teenager by his head out of a hammock as he slept in the wilderness of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. His father, alerted by his screaming kid, fought off the bear. The boy survived with serious injuries. Want to know what it is like to survive having your head munched by a bear? Check out 16-year old Ohio teen Gabriel Alexander’s hospital bed interview of the ordeal.

The sad aspect of that bear attack in the National Park is park officials killed a black bear at the scene, who was later confirmed by DNA analysis as not the attack bear. Park officials also shot another bear they believe was the attack bear, but never found the bear carcass.

One tip I heard repeatedly from wildlife officials on local news, in the days after the black bear attack in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is you should fight the bear. Do not play dead.

Pisgah National Forest and the Birthplace of Forestry

Pisgah National Forest has historic ties to the Vanderbilt Biltmore Estate, America’s largest private residence in Asheville, North Carolina. Pisgah National Forest is 512,758 acres today. The original National Forest was created in 1916 as one of the earliest national forests in the eastern U.S.

Edith Vanderbilt, wife of George Washington Vanderbilt – builder and owner of Biltmore Estate, sold off nearly 87,000 acres of estate land to the U.S. Forest Service after her husband’s death in 1914. These land holdings include some of the largest tracts of old-growth forest in the eastern U.S.

The nation’s first School of Forestry was created by G.W. Vanderbilt to train foresters in managing his estate grounds.

School of Forestry

Biltmore Estate – Birthplace of American Forestry

George W. Vanderbilt, following the recommendation of landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, was the first American landowner to implement scientific forestry, the management and conservation of forest lands, on a large scale. He hired Gifford Pinchot, founder of the Society of American Foresters, to develop a management plan for the surrounding forest. Biltmore’s forest management plan improved the health of the forest while producing sustainable wood resources.

The Biltmore Forest School (1898-1913), located nearby, was the country’s first to provide professional training for foresters. Today, many American colleges and universities offer curricula in forestry and natural resource management.

The basic advice Frederick Law Olmsted gave Vanderbilt was to conserve his extensive lumber holdings through forest management. With his own foresters and lumber company, Vanderbilt could harvest trees and provide income to finance the operations, construction and extensive landscaping around the main house at Biltmore Estate in Asheville.

Looking Glass Falls, U.S. Route 276 in Pisgah National Forest

More waterfalls are found along Route 276 in western North Carolina. Looking Glass Falls has limited parking along the road in the forest. I found a spot and these falls were amazing with a large pool holding more than a dozen swimmers in the cool water on a hot, muggy afternoon in the 90s.

Looking Glass Falls Pisgah NF

Spending a day in Pisgah National Forest visiting waterfalls along Route 276 is a great vacation filler activity. My journey had little time to linger and within an hour I was on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina.

Driving the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway over the next couple hours to reach the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was one of the most scenic road trips I have driven. Highly recommended.

Loyalty Traveler Road Trip Orlando to Knoxville June 4-9, 2015

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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