Old Iron Bridge and Chattooga River Loop
Level of difficulty: Moderate
Driving distance/directions from downtown Highlands, NC: 7.9 miles. Follow the many twists, turns and hairpin switchbacks of Horse Cove Road down to T-intersection of Bull Pen and Whiteside Cove roads. Bear right on Bull Pen (very rough graveled Forest Service road) to bridge. Bull Pen is partially paved, but drive cautiously on this single-track Forest Service road.
Hiking distance: 2 mile loop round trip
Description: Trail proceeds upriver for some distance before switching back to the left and returning through hemlock forest to campsite slightly higher up than parking lot on Bull Pen Road. Hemlocks here display evidence of much damage from Hemlock Woolly Adelgid infestation. Many forego the hike and just picnic along the river above the bridge.
Footnote: The more aggressive hiker may wish to follow Chattooga River Trail upriver. This is a more strenuous hike, with many water crossings, 6.25 miles total, ending at a parking lot for the Chattooga River Trail on Whiteside Cove Road. It is best done with experienced fellow hikers.
Hike descriptions adapted from the Highland Hiker’s Guide to Day Hikes.