North Carolina's Joyce Kilmer Wilderness

The most old-growth forest in the east resides in North Carolina's Joyce Kilmer Wilderness.
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The most old-growth forest in the east resides in North Carolina's Joyce Kilmer Wilderness.

North Carolina

The recipe for a good forest has many ingredients-a dash of mushrooms, a bed of ferns, a garnish of wildflowers-but the main one is trees. And trees are what impress you most in the side-by-side Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wildernesses, which occupy 33,000 acres of Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests. Bigger trees exist elsewhere, but no area in the East packs so many old-growth sentinels in one place.

Many of the biggest trees can be found along the 2-mile Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail, which begins in the Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Area. You'll soon leave the dayhikers behind by taking the Naked Ground and Slickrock Creek trails across the Unicoi Mountains, winding up 15 miles later at Farr Gap in Tennessee. If you don't have an extra car to park at Farr Gap, take the shorter 12-mile loop going out on Naked Ground and returning on Stratton Bald Trail.

Where: 115 miles north of Atlanta and 175 miles west of Charlotte. Follow the signs on Massey Branch Road off US 129 just north of Robbinsville, North Carolina.

Maps: The best is the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness and Citico Creek Wilderness map ($3.75 at phone number below).

Trail Info: Nantahala National Forest, (828) 479-6431.