Approximate size: 15,095 acres
Roadless acreage: 5,934 acres
Old growth acreage: 5,476 acres
Location: McDowell County, NC, 15 miles west of Marion; Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest,
USGS Topographic Maps: Old Fort, Marion West
Mackey Mountain and the valley of Mackey Creek contains the largest unbroken tract of old-growth forest on the Pisgah National Forest. This forest is difficult to visit because there is no trail down the central part of the upper valley. Many of the ridges hold fragments of old-growth hardwood forest and some of these are accessible by trail.
There are two stands of Carolina hemlock here, one of which is a North Carolina Natural Heritage site. The Clear Creek drainage provides water for the town of Marion and also grows some of the largest trees on Mackey Mountain. Most of the old-growth is in dry, non-productive forest types that were not attractive, nor accessible, to loggers. Additionally, the 1912 purchase date of the Burke-McDowell Tract, the first parcel of national forest in the Eastern U.S., saved thousands of acres of old-growth here and in the nearby Jarrett Creek area.
A major portion of the area is protected bear habitat. It sustains a large population of black bear and hikers often see well-worn bear trails and trees marked by clawing. An extensive system of trails once existed in the area, but about half of the trails have been abandoned. The loss of major lateral connectors makes longer loops impractical. Hikers can only cross the private property on the south and east where there is public access.
The Mackey Mountain area lies immediately adjacent to the Curtis Creek Campground. The Hickory Branch Trail leads out of the campground up to the ridge overlooking the Mackey Creek valley. From that ridge a trail leads down to the creek, and a side trail leads to the top of Chestnutwood Mountain. Another main trail leads along the ridge defining the east side of the Mackey Creek drainage.
The Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition has published an excellent trail guide to Mackey Mountain.