Headwaters State Forest
Lovers of the Southern Appalachian Mountains now have 6,730 more acres to explore, with the opening of Headwaters State Forest. The forest is a mountain wonderland featuring beautiful waterfalls, pristine trout streams, and rare mountain bogs.
Adjacent to more than 100,000 acres of protected land in North and South Carolina, Headwaters helps to provide an unbroken conservation corridor for both people and wildlife. The forest is open for hiking, hunting, and fishing, and it borders a nine-mile stretch of the Foothills Trail. It is home to numerous rare or endangered plants and animals, including native brook trout and hellbender salamanders. And its 50+ miles of crystal-clear streams flow into the French Broad River.
Help Protect More Great Places
We hope you’re inspired by this amazing success story to get involved with local land and water conservation. There are many ways that you can contribute, including volunteering, becoming a member, and making a donation. Thank you for helping to protect the natural world!
Recreation in Headwaters State Forest
Most of Headwaters Forest is backcountry, with little in the way of developed trails. However, there are already a number of ways you can get out and enjoy Headwaters, including East Fork Falls, the Foothills Trail, the Sassafrass Mountain overlook, the hike to Bursted Rock, and backcountry recreation.
Activities allowed in the forest include hiking, hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching. Dogs are permitted in the forest, on leash. Mountain biking and horse riding are not allowed. Motor vehicles are not allowed in the forest. There is no visitors center or public restrooms.
Our friends at Romantic Asheville have created a helpful webpage that provides detailed information on how to access hikes and viewpoints.
East Fork Falls
East Fork Falls is a beautiful waterfall accessible by a short walk off of East Fork Road, south of Brevard. There’s a lovely 18-foot waterfall and a pool below it where you can swim. (East Fork is also the July image of the 2019 Giving Calendar: Protected Places by Romantic Asheville.)
A nine mile spur of the Foothills Trail system runs through Headwaters State Forest. The Foothills Trail is a 77-mile long footpath, along the borders of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, connecting Oconee State Park, Lake Jocassee, and Table Rock State Park. To hike the Headwaters State Forest section, you can get on the Foothills Trail at Sassafrass Mountain and hike along the Sassafras Mountain to Caesar’s Head State Park Spur.
Bursted Rock is a rock outcrop offering exceptional views of the sheer cliffs of Table Rock in South Carolina. You can reach Bursted Rock via the Foothills Trail, starting at the Gum Gap trailhead at the end of the rugged Happy Acres Road. This strenuous hike is 5.2 miles round trip. Alternatively, you can reach the turnoff for Bursted Rock by hiking the Foothills Trail 6.5 miles from Sassafrass Mountain. This hike can be tricky to navigate. See detailed directions to find the trailhead and hike to Bursted Rock.
Sassafrass Mountain, on the NC-SC border, is the highest point in South Carolina and offers magnificent views over Headwaters State Forest. The peak is accessible by road and will soon offer a new viewing platform that is accessible to people of all abilities.
Headwaters offers a different kind of outdoor experience than nearby public lands like DuPont State Forest, where the popular trails are sometimes crowded. Headwaters offers opportunities to truly get away. People are welcome to explore Headwaters on foot, off the beaten path, whether following trout streams or finding your way along existing trails or roadbeds. Please make sure you are able to navigate safely out!
There is no cell service in most of the forest, so please be prepared and be safe. Let someone know where you are going before you head out. During hunting season, wear bright colors. As always, be careful on slippery rocks around rivers and waterfalls. Use the forest at your own risk.
The NC Forest Service answers Headwaters State Forest Frequently Asked Questions.
Map of Headwaters State Forest
Map is courtesy of The Conservation Fund. Download PDF.
Where is Headwaters State Forest?
The forest is located south of Brevard, on the North Carolina-South Carolina border. It is between DuPont State Forest and Gorges State Park, and adjacent to over 100,000 acres of protected land in North and South Carolina. Its most popular attraction, East Fork Falls, is located off of East Fork Road, where there is a small pull-off for parking. You can use the GPS address 5500 East Fork Rd, Brevard, NC to reach East Fork Falls.
A Huge Win for Conservation, a Decade in the Making
Imagine our excitement when the owner of one of the largest private landholdings in the Southern Appalachians reached out to us! In 2009, former Congressman Charles Taylor contacted Conserving Carolina about potentially selling his family’s land for conservation. The family owned a vast tract of forest land with exceptional conservation potential—for recreation, water quality, wildlife habitat and more. We knew we would need partners to protect a property of that size and brought in a national organization, The Conservation Fund.
It took nearly a decade of persistence and dedication to complete the deal, bringing together various partners and funding sources. The success of this project was made possible through the leadership of the Conservation Fund. Funding came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and Forest Legacy Program, as well as state programs and private donations, including key support from Fred and Alice Stanback. Conserving Carolina worked alongside The Conservation Fund, building local awareness and support for the forest. On September 6, 2018, Headwaters State Forest, comprising 6,730 acres, was opened to the public. The property is managed by the North Carolina Forest Service.
Benefits of Protecting Headwaters State Forest
- The forest encompasses much of the headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River, with 20 waterfalls, more than 50 miles of high-quality trout streams, and rare Appalachian mountain bogs.
- A healthy environment in the headwaters helps to provide clean drinking water for local communities. The French Broad River is a backup water source for both Asheville and Hendersonville, and an important potential source for future water supplies.
- The forest is home to a number of rare or uncommon species, including native brook trout, hellbender salamanders, green salamanders, gorge filmy fern and gnome rock lichen.
- Adjacent to nearly 100,000 acres of conservation lands in North and South Carolina, the forest helps to create unbroken migration corridors, which are especially important as climate change forces both plants and animals to move to new habitats to survive.
- The forest protects the natural environment and scenery along part of the 77-mile Foothills Trail.
- The forest supports major economic drivers in our communities, including tourism, outdoor recreation, and forestry.
How Headwaters Will Be Managed
A portion of the forest will be managed as working timberland, in order to keep forestry jobs in the local community. It will serve as a demonstration forest, providing education on different forest management techniques.
The NC Forest Service states, “Management at Headwaters State Forest will focus on conserving the lands that surround the upper reaches of the East Fork French Broad River. Maintaining and improving water and soil quality, promoting native forest communities and wildlife, and protecting rare species are among the primary themes of natural resources management at Headwaters State Forest.”
There are so many ways to get outdoors, from scenic hikes to urban greenways to awesome mountain bike trails. Check them out!