Really, I didn’t have hard times in Bent Creek Experimental Forest (part of Pisgah National Forest). But I did hike the Hardtimes loop. It was 6 miles of gravel roads through the forest.
The trailhead gets you started on the Hardtimes road, a long service road that creeps through the woods for several miles. It’s a steady uphill climb, but not intense. The trail eventually meets up with the Mountains to Sea trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there, it’s a slow descent to the North Carolina Arboretum. Trails going from the forest into the arboretum have gates which are locked during the garden’s after hours.
There are at least two different trails you can choose to continue on after the Hardtimes Road ends. For a bigger loop that will lead you to the trailhead, go with the Bent Creek Road (not to be confused with the arboretum’s footpath, the Bent Creek trail which runs along Bent Creek).
I ran into very few people on the roads outside of the arboretum. As an added bonus, the path was wide and there weren’t many mountain bikes. This is a change from some of the other trails in that forest which can be narrow and packed with bike riders depending on day and time.
Since it’s early summer, there were less flowers, tons of greenery, and some cool fungi. It was interesting to see the forest change between Bent Creek to Arboretum to Bent Creek again. The foliage in Bent Creek is far more wild. In one area, kudzu had taken over the entire area. It was amazing and eerie at the same time.
I’d definitely recommend this trail (or parts of it) if you’re looking for an easy several hours in the woods regardless of the season. Easy for kids and adults, but might be hard on pups’ paws since it’s all gravel.