North Carolina's Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area

A rugged land of sweet-smelling wildflowers, bald mountains, and stone Indians.
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A rugged land of sweet-smelling wildflowers, bald mountains, and stone Indians.

Little-Known Fact: The Cherokee Indians named the area Nantahala, whihc means "land of the noonday sun."

For the past two hours I've been climbing steadily up the Long Branch Trail, in the Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area. Soon I'll reach Glassmine Gap and connect with the Appalachian Trail, then spend the next few days following those white blazes.

I continue up the trail until I'm taken with one of nature's most seductive sounds: water gently tumbling down from the mountains.

The Southern Nantahala Wilderness encompasses 24,515 acres at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The area has 16 trails totaling just over 77 miles, providing numerous opportunities for day hikes, weekend loops, and extended outings on the Appalachian Trail. Included in the wilderness is Standing Indian Basin, a horseshoe-shaped drainage formed by the Nantahala River and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The trail often follows the gap-summit-gap route of the AT through the southern Appalachians, with excellent views atop grassy-heath balds.

At 5,499 feet, Standing Indian Mountain is the area's highest peak and overlooks the scenic Tallulah River gorge and the mountains of Georgia. When you reach the summit, be sure to look for the "Standing Indian." Most of his figure has been worn away by the centuries, but a pillar of stone with an ill-defined head remains.

Contact Information:

U.S. Forest Service

Supervisor's Office

100 Otis St.

Asheville, NC 28802

704/257-4200

Location:

The Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area is in southwestern North Carolina, about 75 miles from Asheville. Near the north side of the wilderness is the town of Franklin; near the south side is Clayton, Georgia.

Getting There:

Take U.S. 64 to Old U.S. 64 and follow the signs to Standing Indian Campground.

Seasonal Information:

At these elevations, summer nights tend to be cool (in the 50s). Winter temperatures can dip down to the teens at night.

Wildlife:

There are bear, turkey, deer, and some smaller creatures, but since they are legally hunted in the region they tend to stay away from humans.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

Thanks to its longtime status as a wilderness area, the forest is mature, often dense, and varies from fir to mixed hardwood. In spring and early summer the area becomes a wonderland of flowering rhododendrons, mountain laurels, dogwoods, and azaleas. Stop amid dense thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron, and admire the delicate, sweet-smelling, white and pink blooms.

If you can manage a trip anytime between April and the first frost you'll be rewarded with an everchanging and abundant mix of blooming wildflowers, including trilliums, trout lilies, bluets, and violets.

Facilities:

Camping is primitive in the wilderness. Unless otherwise designated, primitive camping is allowed in the forest.

Outside the wilderness, Standing Indian Campground is a large and developed seasonal site for $8 per night. It accommodates trailers and offers toilets, showers, drinking water, and even an amphitheater. Groups will need reservations.

There are also three shelters located along the AT.

Parking:

Contact park office for information.

Permits:

No permits are required.

Policies:

  • Groups are limited to 10 people.
  • Motor vehicles and bicycles are prohibited in the wilderness.

Hazards:

  • Thunderstorms can be a serious threat.
  • There is a two-week deer hunting season around Thanksgiving, so check with forest officials for safety guidelines during that time.

Leave No Trace:

Visitors are encouraged not to use fire.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

Maps are available from:

Wayah Ranger District

Route 10, Box 210

Franklin, NC 28734

704/524-4410.

Ask for the Southern Nantahala Wilderness-Standing Indian Basin map.

The Appalachian Trail Conference guidebook 10 (North Carolina/Georgia) provides descriptions, too. Contact:

A.T.C.

Box 807

Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

304/535-6331.

Other Trip Options:

  • The Nantahala National Forest proper offers 526,798 acres with 700 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. There are also a number of lakes for waterskiing, two other wilderness areas for exploring, and the Nantahala River for whitewater boating.
  • The Chattahochee National Forest (770/536-0541) is just to the south in Georgia.