Readers' Choice 2012: Creekside Loop, Pisgah NF, NC

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I thought my backpacking days were on hold. I was five months pregnant, and taking care of my midsection was hard enough without puffing up a Therm-a-Rest or sweating up a steep trail. But when an opportunity arose that was too good to pass up (being a BACKPACKER Reader Leader! Hello!), I threw my reservations aside and said to my husband, “Heck—let’s do it!”

We picked the gentle 11-mile Creekside Loop in the Mills River area of Pisgah National Forest. It has minimal climbing, many opportunities to dabble toes in the water, and enough camping options that we could tweak our itinerary if we needed to.

From the Turkeypen trailhead north of Brevard, take the Mullinax Trail through hemlock and rhododendron over 3,000-foot Mullinax Gap to the Laurel Creek Trail. This tracks the creek for 1.6 miles to the Bradley Creek Trail junction, a good place to camp if you don’t want to push it. Take Bradley Creek to a left on the Riverside Trail. There are a half-dozen easy creek crossings in this stretch (nice for my swollen ankles). We camped riverside at mile 8.6, in a hemlock-shaded spot with a fire ring. Next day is an easy 2.4 miles to the trailhead, where we high-fived for getting in one more trip before becoming new parents (to a girl!).

Map Pisgah Ranger District ($12,

(828) 257-4200;