The United States Congress designated the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness (map
) in 1984 and it now has a total of 5,025 acres
All of this wilderness is located in North Carolina
and is managed by the Forest Service.
Most people haven't even heard of the Uwharrie Mountains, much less seen these ancient volcanic landforms, considered the oldest range on the North American continent. Although eroded by eons of time and weather, the Uwharries are still the highest uplift in the eastern half of North Carolina. Birkhead Mountains Wilderness marks their northern end.
Covered primarily in old-growth hardwoods, the Wilderness consists of several long, wooded ridges and surrounding drainages of moderately steep terrain. Small, clear streams run past rocky outcroppings down to the Uwharrie River and outside the western boundary. An understory of wildflowers, shrubs, ferns, mosses, and other plant species flourish on their sodden banks. Elevations range from about 450 feet on drainage bottoms to around 950 feet on Cedar Rock Mountain in the northeastern section.
When explorers first landed here in the late 1600s, they found Native American tribes that had been inhabiting the area for more than 12,000 years. European settlement began in earnest in the 1760s, and the natives were pushed westward. The Birkhead family moved in around 1850, leaving their name and mark on the land. Among the trees of Birkhead you may see remnants of old homesteads, farms, gold mining operations, old roads, and evidence of timber harvesting.
The Birkhead Mountain Trail crosses the heart of the area for approximately 4.5 miles from north to south (but you won't find a parking lot on either end). From a parking lot on the western boundary of the Wilderness, the Robbins Branch Trail (about three miles) enters the area to fork at the Hannah's Creek Trail (about 1.5 miles). Both trails join the Birkhead Mountain Trail. Group size is limited to 10, a regulation enforced in all North Carolina Wildernesses.