The United States Congress designated the Middle Prong Wilderness (map
) in 1984 and it now has a total of 7,482 acres
All of this wilderness is located in North Carolina
and is managed by the Forest Service.
The Middle Prong Wilderness is bordered by
the Shining Rock Wilderness
to the northeast.
Pioneers grabbed up this area, once part of the Cherokee Nation, starting in 1796. After settlement, most of the land was purchased, first by a paper company in the early 1900s, then by a lumber company. A town shaped up at the junction of the Right Prong, Middle Prong, and Left Prong of the West Fork of the Pigeon River. The town was later relocated, but the lumber company continued its quest for timber, removing vast stands of red spruce, Fraser fir, hemlocks, and hardwoods from 1906 to 1926 and building an extensive system of logging railroads. Four of these old railroad beds are now used as hiking trails in today's Middle Prong Wilderness. The Wilderness rests on high ridges southeast of Richland Balsam, a steep and rugged terrain forested with second-growth spruce and fir, and opened by grass-heath "balds" on the ridges. Mixed hardwoods cover the lower slopes. Elevations range from 3,200 feet on the West Fork of the Pigeon River to 6,400 feet near Richland Balsam. Numerous streams work their way down to the river. Only a road separates this Wilderness from Shining Rock Wilderness to the north. Middle Prong is a small Wilderness with a limited and primitive trail system. The hiking rates as difficult, but ample opportunities exist for solitude. The most used trail is a four-mile portion (approximate distance) of the Mountains-to-Sea route to the extreme south. The Green Mountain Trail (approximately six miles) crosses the area from north to south. No campfires are permitted, and group size is limited to 10. The Blue Ridge Parkway parallels the southern Wilderness boundary.