Follow in the footsteps of legendary 18th-century explorer William Bartram—linking tranquil hollows and skirting a wild river—on this challenging 21.1-mile, two-night shuttle hike. The yellow-blazed Bartram Trail honors the man who spent four years documenting the Southeast’s wilderness. From the Beechertown trailhead (1), climb .2 mile of switchbacks, then join a forest road to start a 2.9-mile, 1,500-foot climb. Passing views of cloud-trapping gorges, the trail narrows (2) through tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel (blooming late spring) before you traverse the eastern flank of 4,052-foot Rattlesnake Knob (3). Soon, Pierce Creek’s burble signals the first night’s camp (4) at mile 4.3, where dense second-growth provides tethers for a load-lightening tarp (“Key Skill,” next page). Next morning, hike 2.5 miles through rolling forest before turning south (5) to wind along the Nantahala River on 4.7 flat miles with access to swimming and fishing. A six-inch-deep ford (6) across concrete at the base of a 250-foot rockfill dam signals the start of a 400-foot climb past a spillway-fueled waterfall. From here, a 1.5-mile wooded traverse yields the trip’s first glimpses of 1,065-acre Nantahala Lake. At mile 14 (7), the trail follows Wayah Road .6 mile along the lake’s shoreline to the inlet of Winespring Creek (8)—the last reliable water before camp. Turn left to re-enter the rhododendrons and start the 2,300-foot climb over 5.2 miles of McDonald Ridge. At the flat, viewless summit of 5,440-foot Winespring Bald (9), the Bartram Trail merges with the AT. A spring just beyond makes this a welcome, primitive high-country camp. Next day, skirt the northern slopes of Wayah Bald for 1.3 miles, with intermittent views toward the dark ridges of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From 5,342-foot Wayah’s stone summit tower (10), take in views of undulating, hazy blue ridges and peaks. To finish, backtrack 150 yards to the parking area.
Trip Planner Shuttle car: From Asheville, take I-40 W to US 74 W. In 61 miles, turn left on Wayah Rd., go 19 miles, turn left on Wayah Bald Rd., and park at the summit. Trailhead: Backtrack 22.8 miles to the Beechertown trailhead.
Shuttle Jude Julius; (828) 736-0086; $85
Gear up Nantahala Outdoor Center, 13077 Highway 74 W, Bryson City; (800) 232-7238; noc.com