This trail is a mix of steep, loose trail and flat, easy sections. There are some semi-scrambles required on the steepest sections - the very steepest of which has a rope to help. This will make it fun for some runners, but a run to avoid for others. You'll be rewarded with many great viewpoints, a wide variety of forest types, and two summits.
This is a day use area with no fees.
This trail is very steep, slippery, and has some exposure so it should only be done if you're comfortable with that.
The road leading to parking for Elk Mountain is the same for the Elk Creek Campground. It is a single-lane dirt road that should be accessible for any vehicle and has pull-offs for passing other cars. The first parking area is only for the campground. There are two more parking areas that access this trail and should provide plenty of space to park.
You'll need to take the Wilson River Trail
a short distance to access Elk Mountain Trail
. The intersections were well signed and included distances. Elk Mountain Trail
begins in earnest - it will be clear how steep this trail can be from the very beginning. There are essentially no switchbacks and the trail has lots of small, loose rock, so be careful not to slide down the mountain. There are some sections that may require your hands for support. Along the way to the top, you'll pass multiple excellent viewpoints. At the top, there is a box with a registry and a sign proclaiming the elevation for a "did it" photo-op.
One of the steepest parts of the trail is the descent off of Elk Mountain to the southwest. Take your time on this scramble down. A few more semi-scrambles will be necessary before the trail suddenly becomes a smooth, easy former forest/logging road. You'll pass a rescue helicopter landing area before you come to the intersection with Kings Mountain Trail
The first part of Kings Mountain Trail
will be an easy forest road until you get to a jagged section of the ridgeline. Here, the trail suddenly drops in a corkscrew around to the west side of the ridge. This section is very steep and slippery. There is a section with a rope to help, which was in good condition in 2019. Parts of this have some exposure, too. The trail will then begin to climb nearly as steeply as it just descended, and still on loose rocks.
The trail opens up to nice views of Elk Mountain and the ridge you just took before ascending slightly more to the summit. The summit has a sign and box with a register like Elk Mountain. The views from the top are not as great as a few other view points just a little downhill. From the top, the trail begins to to drop elevation very rapidly, but not quite as quickly as Elk Mountain. It's still loose rock, so be mindful of sliding. After about 1,000 feet, the trail will get slightly less steep and enter a lush fern forest.
When you finally arrive at the Wilson River Trail
, turn left to continue the counterclockwise loop. The remaining 3.5 miles are nothing special, but easy and go by quickly. There is a nice bridge over a small stream about 1.5 miles along, then a small ascent, and the next thing you know, you're back at the parking area.