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Backpacker Magazine – August 2009

Top 3 Perfect Substitute National Forests

Get national park-caliber scenery without crowds (or entry fees!) in these dead ringers for Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, and Yosemite.

by: David Pidgeon

Dixie NF, UT (Whit Richardson)
Dixie NF, UT (Whit Richardson)

Hike to a deserted bald.
If you want iconic Smokies scenery–an orange sun lighting the famous haze in shades of purple and blue–without sharing, the comparatively people-free, 531,000-acre Nantahala National Forest awaits across Fontana Lake to the south. Ninety miles from the park border lies Tusquitee Bald, a grassy, 5,200-foot crown where you can spy the folded ridges of the Nantahala Mountains stretching into the clouds. Get there via a calf-busting five-mile out-and-back under a canopy of red oak so thick the sun rarely touches bare ground. Take the Far Bald Spring Trail and gain nearly 2,000 feet in 1.9 miles to link to the Fires Creek Rim Trail. You'll track half a mile through thinning forest to the Chunky Gal Trail and a short scramble to the summit, the tallest of three balds on a two-mile-long open ridge.

Area hikers rave about the lemon- pepper local rainbow trout at Cottage Deli in Hayesville. (828) 389-8473

The Way
From Hayesville, make lefts onto Tusquitee St., then Fires Creek Rd. Then go 4.5 miles to a right on SR 1344, which leads to the trailhead.

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Reader Rating: -


Jul 04, 2013

Why ... after paying for print subscription ... paying for iPad app ... paying for backpacker pro ... is this company compelled to force paying subscribers to click out of multiple subscription/subscription renewal ads before being able read/view the content we pay to view.

If backpacker is this desperate for additional revenue ... Successive pop-ups presented to your "paying subscribers" will not save you. F__'d up way to treat your subscribers.

Philip Morris, Jr
Nov 30, 2009

I just spent the weekend in the Fires Creek area thanks to this article. It is gorgeous and very difficult hiking. My 17 year old son, one of his friends and this 50 year old dad hiked the Far Bald Springs Trail to the Rim Trail and then the 0.1 leg of Chunky Gal to the summit of Tusquitee Bald. We spend the night there at 20 degrees with a 40 mph wind. the view to the east was awe inspring. We spend the next day going clockwise on the rim trail to Potrock Bald and then counterclockwise to a rocky outcrop on the West side of Signal Bald. The view was spectacular including Clingman's Dome on the horizon to the NW. We hiked back to Tusquitee Bald for another night but not before our search for water resulted in an unsuccessful difficult wandering off trail and a mile back tracking of Far Bald Springs Trail. The trails are very steep. You need excellent ankle support and conditioning for these trails, but the experience is worth all the pain. Buy the trail guide.

Aug 20, 2009

I've been visiting the Nantahala National Forest for about ten years now and i much prefer it over the crowded GSMNP. You can go for miles without running into anyone and the views of Fontana Lake are some of the best. If you like GSMNP, but not the crowds and loud tourists that come along with it, you should definitely check Nantahala NF out. It's a little ways away, (about 10 mi.), but for rafting, kayaking and hiking gear, go to Nantahala Outdoor Center in Wesser. From Bryson City, take US 19 South towards Robbinsville. The road will narrow and begin to twist more. NOC will be on your right. NOC has a few restaurants there too. the one that overlooks the water is the best.


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