South Mills River
Approximate size: 17,120 acres
Roadless acreage: 8,629 acres
Location: Transylvania and Henderson counties, NC, 12 miles north of Brevard; Pisgah Ranger District Pisgah National Forest
USGS Topographic Maps: Pisgah Forest, Dunsmore Mountain, Shining Rock
The South Mills River Mountain Treasure is a remarkable transect of mountain scenery including ridgeline views, deep valleys with clear water trout streams and one of the biggest mountain bogs in the Southeast. It encompasses an area from the congressionally-designated Cradle of Forestry and the Pink Beds near US 276 on the west; the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Pisgah Inn on the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the north; then it falls southward through the long ridges of the Laurel Mountain Roadless Area to the drainage basin of the South Mills River Roadless Area.
Only the Yellow Gap Road, a dirt connector between US 276 and the North Mills River Recreation Area, separates the South Mills River and the Pink Beds from the Laurel Mountain Roadless Area to the north.
The area includes an extensive trail system, including part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, much used by hikers, campers, mountain bikers, horse riders, and hunters. Historically it is of interest because it was once part of the Biltmore Forest, owned by George Vanderbilt in 1900 and where Gifford Pinchot established the nation’s first forestry school. The remnants of Pinchot’s first management experiments can still be seen along Big Creek in the Laurel Mountain Area.
The State of North Carolina gave the South Mills River an Outstanding Resource Waters classification 1988. The Congress designated the South Mills River a National Wild and Scenic Study River in 1990. Asheville and Hendersonville are planning to draw municipal water supplies from this watershed.
The Forest Service concluded in 1996 that several river segments are all eligible for National Wild and Scenic status: 20.1 miles of the South Fork Mills River within the Pisgah National Forest (beginning in the Cradle of Forestry and going to the junction with the North Fork); 5.3 miles outside the forest boundaries, plus 5.9 miles of the North Fork (from the Hendersonville Reservoir); and, 2.2 miles of the Mills River below their junction. If Congress were to designate all these qualifying sections, they would become the longest wild river in North Carolina.
This area’s size, beauty, popularity and diversity suggest that it, along with other similarly unspoiled and popular nearby areas (Cedar Rock and Daniel Ridge, plus Sliding Rock, the Cradle of Forestry Visitor Center, the Trout Hatchery and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Education Center, and the Davidson River, Kuykendahl, North Mills River and Cove Creek campgrounds) would logically qualify the entire Pisgah Ranger District for designation as a national recreation area.
The South Mills River is noted as one of the top trout fishing, turkey hunting, horseback riding and mountain biking areas in the Pisgah National Forest. The richness of hunting and fishing opportunities is mirrored by a wealth of biodiversity, including rare aquatic species like the hellbender and the endangered mussel, the Appalachian elktoe.