The Cradle of Forestry in America was originally known as the Biltmore Forest School.
It was founded in 1898 by Carl A. Schenck, a German Ph.D brought in by George W. Vanderbilt to manage his 100,000+ acres of forests around the Biltmore Estate.
The goal of the school was to teach responsible forest management to local men in the timber industry, primarily as a reaction to the extensive and indiscriminate deforestation of the area in the late 19th century.
Though the original Biltmore Forest School only operated for 15 years, it remains highly revered today as “The Cradle of Forestry in America,” and is generally considered the first school of forestry in the USA.
Now part of the world-renowned Pisgah National Forest, located in the heart of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, The Cradle of Forestry has become a popular historical attraction.
An accessible day trip from the Blue Ridge Parkway (4 miles away), Brevard (15 miles), and Hendersonville (28 miles), the heritage museum features numerous original buildings, railway cars, and self-guided trails, as well as special tours and events.
Read on to learn more about this beloved landmark in Pisgah Forest NC, including its history, major attractions, and driving directions.
READ MORE: Pisgah National Forest: A Beginner’s Guide
Cradle of Forestry Info
ADDRESS: 11250 Pisgah Hwy, Pisgah Forest NC 28768
HOURS: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 AM-4 PM, April through November
ADMISSION: $6 adults, $3 youth (ages 4-12), special events $10-16
Quick Facts about The Cradle of Forestry
- The Biltmore Forest School opened in September 1898 (just a few weeks before the New York State College of Forestry) to become the first school of forestry in the United States. The school offered a one-year course that included classroom and hands-on, practical learning.
- The Cradle of Forestry encompasses 6500 acres in Pisgah National Forest and is, itself, considered a National Heritage Site. These 6500 acres are just a small percentage of the 87,000 acres that Vanderbilts donated to create the heart of Pisgah National Forest.
- The Cradle of Forestry is located in “the Pink Beds”, a highly touristed area just below Mount Pisgah. It is named Pink Beds because of the overflowing rhododendron and mountain laurel flowers that color the entire valley pink when in bloom in late spring.
Directions to The Cradle of Forestry
The Cradle of Forestry is located on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, a 79-mile loop through the Pisgah Ranger District in the Pisgah National Forest.
It’s located near the towns of Brevard, Hendersonville, and Mills River.
Leaving Downtown Brevard, go northeast on US-64E until reaching the “unincorporated community” of Pisgah Forest, where US-64 and US-276 intersect.
Take a left into Pisgah National Forest and continue north on US-276 for about 11 miles. The Cradle of Forestry will be on the right.
There are several routes for getting to the Cradle of Forestry from Asheville, but the most straightforward and shortest trip is to take I-26E to NC-191 (exit 33) moving south.
From there, it’s a right on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow the directions in “From the Blue Ridge Parkway.”
From the Blue Ridge Parkway
For those cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cradle of Forestry is very easy to reach.
Exit the Parkway at Milepost 411.8, and go south on US-276 for just under four miles (less than ten minutes).
The Cradle of Forestry will be on the left shortly after passing the Pink Beds Trail Loop.
History of the Cradle of Forestry in America
When George W. Biltmore first began building the Biltmore Estate, he hired a trained forester, Gifford Pinchot, on the recommendation of Fred Olmstead, the designer of NYC’s Central Park.
It was Pinchot who developed an initial forest management and conservation plan for the Biltmore’s roughly 125,000 acres of forest. By 1895, the Biltmore House was complete, as was Pinchot’s tenure.
Pinchot’s plan for the Biltmore Estate was the first of its kind in the United States, and went on to become a national model for implementing regimented forestry on a large scale.
German forester Dr. Carl Schenck took over after Pinchot. Schenck expanded on his original plan over the next 14 years, including founding the Biltmore Forest School.
Schenck’s school, which is now recognized as the Cradle of Forestry in America, graduated over 300 of the first professional foresters in the United States.
The combination of Olmstead, Pinchot, and Schenck’s work on the Biltmore Estate transformed the overused and exploited landscape to create the country’s first wide-ranging managed forest, which has sustainably supplied wood and other forest resources over the past century.
In 1914, Edith Vanderbilt honored her husband’s wishes and sold some 86,000 acres of the Biltmore Estate to the US government, creating Pisgah National Forest.
Then, in 1968, the US Congress set aside 6500 acres within Pisgah National Forest as the historic Cradle of Forestry.
Exploring the Cradle of Forestry in America
As we’ve established, the Cradle of Forestry involves 6500 acres in the Pink Beds Valley of Pisgah National Forest.
This acreage is currently managed by both the US Forest Service and FIND Outdoors, working towards Forest-Inspired Nature Discovery.
The historic site offers visitors a chance to explore informative trails, interesting exhibits, guided tours, skill demonstrations, and more. There is also a Forest Discovery Center that has a café and gift shop.
The site is a great place to learn about the history and future of forest conservation and environmental stewardship, as well as to simply enjoy the outdoors.
If you visit on a weekday, don’t be surprised to see numerous school groups touring the attraction, with costumed “living history” actors leading the way.
Forest Discovery Center
A visit to the Forest Discover Center includes a half-hour movie about Carl Schenck and the Biltmore Forest School, as well as over a dozen interactive exhibits (including a simulated helicopter flight over a forest fire).
The Forest Discovery Center teaches about the history of the Biltmore Forest School and explains what life was like for students attending it over a century ago.
Though it is currently closed due to COVID concerns, the interactive area will likely be reopened in the latter half of 2021.
There is also the Café At The Cradle, where visitors can grab a bite to eat (think sandwiches and snack fare), and the Giving Tree Gift Shop for buying forest-related souvenirs.
Designed especially for children and adults with autism, The Adventure Zone is open to everyone and has hands-on activities both inside and outside.
The indoor adventures include several activities within the Forest Discover Center, such as the helicopter simulator, movie, building station, and underground tunnel.
The outdoor activities include searching for animal tracks and critters, wearing special lenses to see the world as a dragonfly, and exploring a historic steam train once used for logging in the local area.
There are three relatively short trails in the Cradle of Forestry: The Forest Festival Trail, Biltmore Campus Trail, and Forest Discovery Trail.
Each of them is between a mile and a mile-and-a-half long, and rate as easy hiking.
The Forest Festival Trail explores the work of Dr. Schenck, and includes highlights such as an O-zone Garden, a portable sawmill, and a historic steam locomotive.
The historical Biltmore Campus Trail twists and turns through the beautiful Biltmore Forest School campus. It includes visits to the old general store, cabins, a garden, and the one-room schoolhouse in which classes were conducted. Most of these buildings are decorated with period antiques.
The Forest Discovery Trail is for personal exploration of the wilderness. It boasts a hidden cascade, comfortable benches, and views of both the Blue Ridge Mountains above and the Pink Bed Valley below.
Agents of Discovery
Centered around the paved Forest Festival Trail (1.3 miles), Agents of Discovery is a reality game that tests children’s knowledge of the natural world.
It was developed to correspond with the official North Carolina school curriculum for grades two through six.
To play the game, there is a free app that can be downloaded onto mobile devices. Just follow this link and look for “Cradle of Forestry in America.” Note that the GPS function needs to be turned on in order to play.
Events & Tours
The Cradle of Forestry in America offers numerous special events and tours throughout its tourist season, which spans from April through November.
Amongst the most renowned are the May and June In Search of Blue Ghost Fireflies Tours, which seek out special fireflies that hover above the forest floor, emitting a blue glow.
Other popular annual events include the Blue Ghost Photography Tours in May, the Songcatchers Music Series on Sundays in July, and Halloween’s Trick Or Treat on the Trails.
The Forest Festival Day (scheduled for October 2 in 2021) includes craftspeople, living history demonstrations, interactive activities, and collegiate lumberjack competitions. It’s also a great time to catch an early glimpse of fall colors in Western NC.
Visit the Cradle of Forestry in America event page or Facebook page for all the latest updates on upcoming events and tours. —Jonathon Engels; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted