Florence Nature Preserve
Florence Nature Preserve offers a network of 5+ miles of hiking trails on 600 beautiful acres on the slopes of Little Pisgah Mountain. The preserve features pristine creeks and cascades, scenic rock outcrops, the ruins of an old homesite, and areas of old growth forest.
It’s the perfect place to go for a quiet and pleasant walk in the woods, off the beaten path. This land is home to many special plants and wildlife, from pink and yellow ladyslippers to rare salamanders. Keep your eyes open and you never know what you might see!
Length: Network of 5+ miles of trails
Suggested Hike: Reach Rattlesnake Rock via a “lollipop loop” of the FNP Access Trail, Blue, White, and Red Trails (4.2 miles round-trip)
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Great For: Hiking, Views, Creeks and Cascades, Solitude, Wildflowers, Photography, Kids
How to Get to Florence Nature Preserve
Address: 3836 Gerton Hwy, Gerton, NC 28735
You can access the Florence Nature Preserve trails at the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge trailhead on Gerton Highway (Rt. 74-A), near the village of Gerton. You will see a parking area, next to a kiosk and an old stone chimney. (Note: this also the parking area for the Wildcat Rock Trail, which starts on the other side of the street.)
What to Look For at the Preserve
- Great views from Rattlesnake Rock
- More beautiful scenery from the viewpoint at Little Pisgah Point
- Pristine creeks and cascades
- Quiet trails “off the beaten path”
- Wildflowers, including yellow and pink lady slippers
- Diverse wildlife, including birds and salamanders
- Remains of an old homesite
Hikes at Florence Nature Preserve
With a 5-mile network of interconnected trails, you can choose your own hike at Florence Nature Preserve. The trails are marked with yellow, white, blue, and red blazes. Whichever way you choose to go, you find much to enjoy and observe on your hike. Here’s an overview of what you will encounter on each trail:
- The FNP Access Trail is marked with yellow blazes and it connects the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge trailhead parking area with the rest of the trail network.
- The Blue Trail parallels a picturesque mountain stream—a tributary to Hickory Creek—and passes several scenic cascades and water features.
- The Red Trail is the high road. It traverses a mountain ridgeline and takes you to the spur trail for Rattlesnake Rock.
- The White and Yellow Trails in the middle of the preserve allow you to explore some new territory or take a shortcut while hiking a loop.
- The short Orange Spur Tail off of the Red Trail leads to scenic Rattlesnake Rock.
- The short Orange Spur Trail off the Blue Trail will take you to Little Pisgah Point, which also offers great views of the surrounding Hickory Nut Gorge.
Loop Hike to Rattlesnake Rock
One popular hiking loop in Florence Nature Preserve is a 4.2 mile lollipop-shaped route that takes you to Rattlesnake Rock, while viewing most of the preserve’s cascades along the way. For this loop:
- From the parking area, take the yellow-blazed FNP Access Trail until you reach the Blue Trail.
- Take the Blue Trail in either direction, connecting it to the Red Trail and the White Trail to make a loop.
- From the Red Trail, take the orange-blazed spur trail to Rattlesnake Rock.
- After enjoying the view, hike back the way you came on the Orange Trail.
- Complete the loop on the Red, Blue, and White Trails, until you’re back at the FNP Access Trail.
- Take the FNP Access trail back to the parking area.
Connecting Trails Throughout the Hickory Nut Gorge.
The trails at Florence Nature Preserve connect to the Wildcat Rock Trail, which starts on the other side of the road from the parking area. They are also part of an ambitious emerging trail network in the Hickory Nut Gorge. Conserving Carolina is spearheading efforts to create a 20 mile loop trail in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge that will connect Florence Nature Preserve, Wildcat Rock Trail, Bearwallow Mountain, the Trombatore Trail, and Blue Ridge Pastures. This loop will be part of the future 100+ Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail, which will one day traverse the whole length of the Hickory Nut Gorge and circumnavigate Lake Lure.
The Story of Florence Nature Preserve
Dr. Tom Florence and his wife Glenna left a legacy of natural wonders when they donated their 600 acre property on Little Pisgah Mountain to Conserving Carolina. The couple started acquiring this land on the southern slopes of the mountain in the 1960s and they made regular trips from Georgia to enjoy it. In their retirement, they lived on the land for 20 years. They came to have a deep sense of connection to the land and they didn’t want its natural treasures ever to be lost. And they didn’t want to just keep them to themselves.
The Florences donated 300 acres to Conserving Carolina in 1996, which was the first property that the land trust owned. They went on to donate an additional 300 acres in 2001. Conserving Carolina adopted and improved nearly five miles of existing trails and has opened the land to the public as the Florence Nature Preserve.
“That land just spoke to my dad,” said the Florences’ daughter, Cheryl Florence Pratt. “It was what mattered most to him.”
“Both my mom and dad were so passionate about that land,” she said. “They wanted people to be able to hike that land and be able to bring their kids and grandkids to show them something as nature intended it, not paved or built up. It is just a beautiful piece of property and I am so pleased that people can go there to enjoy it like my parents did.”
Springboard for Conservation
The Florences’ property was the first land to be protected in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge and it offered the first publicly accessible hiking trails in the area.This conservation project proved to be a springboard for much more land protection, encouraging nearby landowners to pursue conservation. Today, nearby nature preserves and trails include Wildcat Rock Trail, Bearwallow Mountain, the Trombatore Trail, and Blue Ridge Pastures.
Conserving Carolina improved access to the Florence Nature Preserve in 2011 with the acquisition of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead in partnership with conservation landowners John Myers and Jane Lawson and Henderson County Parks and Recreation. A new 0.7-mile sustainable trail, the FNP Access Trail, was built in 2012 to access the preserve’s nearly five miles of trails from Highway 74-A. Construction was undertaken by Trail Dynamics with help from the Carolina Mountain Club. Funding from the National Scenic Byways Program, Fred & Alice Stanback, Bill & Jerry McAninch, Community Foundation of Henderson County, REI Asheville, and donors to Conserving Carolina like you helped make this project possible.
The Conserving Carolina Rock Crushers Trails Crew as well as Conserving Carolina’s Adopt-A-Trail volunteers help maintain and steward the trails of Florence Nature Preserve.
If you enjoy beautiful places like the Florence Nature Preserve, please consider making a gift to Conserving Carolina. Your support helps us protect more great places and build more trails so we can all get out and enjoy the mountains!
Please show respect for other hikers and for the plants and animals that live in the Florence Nature Preserve.
- Keep pets on leash.
- No mountain biking or horseback riding
- No camping or campfires.
- Do not disturb cultural sites like rock walls and foundations or wooden structures.
Share Your Experience
What was your day like at the Florence Nature Preserve? Please share your photos on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Tag us and use the hashtag #conservingcarolina. Here’s how to find us on social:
Why stop with Florence Nature Preserve? Find more places to get outdoors, from nearby hikes in the Hickory Nut Gorge to waterfalls you’ve never seen before.