April 14, 2017
Laurel Mountain Trail is my last trail in what is known as the Mills River area. 7.3 miles in length, it extends from Yellow Gap on F.S. 1206 to the M.S.T. near Mt. Pisgah and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is rated as moderate and while there are steep sections, it was overall a nice hike.
I chose to enter the F.S. road at the North Mills Recreation Area, which travels the gravel road for roughly 3 miles. The Laurel trailhead is located on the right-hand side of the road (if going towards Pink Beds). Just before Yellow Gap, I saw a huge canopy with bikers congregating around.
Just as I got to the trailhead and started hiking, I heard the screeching of tires from a bike behind me. A middle-aged guy got off, cursed and started walking his bike uphill. We talked for a moment and he was clearly exhausted. I asked if there was a race. He explained that this was Day 4 of the 5-Day Pisgah Stage Race. Every day they have 30 or so miles of trails to cover. At a flat section he got back on his bike and kept going. For the next 5 miles I would see bikers come up and pass me. All of them were very nice, and made conversation.
Laurel Mountain is very appropriately named. Mountain Laurel dots the landscape and provides a canopy over much of the trail. The first 3 miles were slightly uphill, but very manageable. Without thinking, mountains and gaps passed: Rich Gap, Laurel Mountain, Sassafras Gap, Good Enough Gap. Just before Turkey Spring Gap, the trail is the steepest, with a rocky tough section. Reaching Turkey Spring, a man in ski goggles, a bath towel and black tape over his nipples was waving an orange flag. There was a biker right in front of me and we both started laughing. The man, who was rather eccentric, said that he was charged with “keeping things crazy” during the bike race for the contestants. He would alternate between dancing and talking to his dog anthropomorphically.
Turkey Spring is at the junction for Laurel Mountain and the Laurel Mountain Connector Trail. It was .9 miles further to the end of Laurel Mountain on the M.S.T. The trail is littered with moss strewn rocks, darkening the landscape to a Tolkien-like green. At the summit, I backtracked to the Connector Trail, where unfortunately, the insane towel-wearing cheerleader had left.
The Connector Trail is only .3 miles and very easy. In lieu of backtracking again, I continued on the Pilot Rock Trail and returned to F.S.1206. It was then a 5 mile road walk back to my Jeep.
Total mileage is 15.1 miles.