Asheville, NC: Nantahala Headwaters Loop

Hike 24.8 miles around the source of the Nantahala River on the Appalachian Trail and camp atop Albert Mountain for night-sky views. On night two, pitch your tent on 5,498-foot Standing Indian, a treeless bald with front-row sunset vistas.
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Hike 24.8 miles around the source of the Nantahala River on the Appalachian Trail and camp atop Albert Mountain for night-sky views. On night two, pitch your tent on 5,498-foot Standing Indian, a treeless bald with front-row sunset vistas.

From reader and map contributor kurtisk, this popular-for-a-reason loop hike circles the headwaters of the Nantahala River.

Text by Andrew Matranga. Mapped and Photographed by Steven Kruse

Plan it

Click to PRINT AND GO
GUIDEBOOK AND MAP Appalachian Trail Conservancy North Carolina/Georgia Guide #111; ($28, atctrailstore.org). Get ground-truthed advice for this route—or plan a 2,175-mile thru-hike with BACKPACKER’s Guide to the Appalachian Trail (free, backpacker.com/AT).
FEES/PERMITS None
CONTACT Nantahala National Forest, Nantahala Ranger District (828) 524-6441; fs.fed.us/r8/
CONDITIONS Water sources at shelters are reliable. At 4,000 feet, temperatures are pleasant from May to September. Target late May to early June for flowers and mid-October to early November for showy foliage.
GPS DATA Download tracks and waypoints, print or order custom topos, from the menu on the right.

LOCAL LINKS

GAS
EXXON
51 Merrimon Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 258-1670

GEAR

BLACK DOME MOUNTAIN SPORTS
140 Tunnel Rd.
Asheville, NC
(828) 251-2001

GROCERIES
FRENCH BROAD FOOD CO-OP
90 Biltmore Ave.
Asheville, NC
(828) 255-7650

RESTAURANTS

THIRSTY MONK
50 Commerce St.
Asheville, NC
(828) 254-5470
MAST GENERAL STORE
63 North Main St.
Waynesville, NC
(828) 452-2101
SOUL INFUSION TEA HOUSE
628 East Main St.
Sylva, NC
(828) 586-1717
CAFF-E REL
457 East Main St.
Franklin, NC
(828) 369-9446
Multiday gear list
Backpack
Three-season tent
Down bag (15° to 40°F)
and sleeping pad
Compass, map, GPS unit
Gas stove and fuel bottles
Lighter and matches
Cookset, bowl, insulated
mug, eating utensils
32 oz. water bottle (2)
Water treatment
Multitool/knife
Bear-bagging rope
Headlamp with
extra batteries
Waterproof/breathable
jacket and pants
Fleece and down jackets
Synthetic pants and
shorts
Midweight baselayers
Synthetic T-shirt (2)
Hat and gloves
Hiking boots
Camp footwear
Wool/synthetic socks (3)
Trekking poles
Bug repellent and
sunscreen (SPF 15+)
Stuffsacks
Zip-top bags
Toilet paper and trowel
First-aid kit

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 39.9

Waypoints

NHL001

Location: 35.074758, -83.527268

From backcountry info sign at Standing Indian Campground, head east on blue-blazed Long Branch Trail.

NHL002

Location: 35.077053, -83.502217

Turn right onto the Appalachian Trail (AT) and head up Sassafras Ridge through Glassmine Gap

NHL003

Location: 35.069469, -83.497117

The AT zags east at this unsigned intersection and continues to climb.

NHL004

Location: 35.059031, -83.478633

Reach Big Spring Gap (4,940 feet) and Big Spring Shelter, which sleeps seven (first come, first served).

NHL005

Location: 35.055402, -83.477603

Follow the AT east at junction with blue-blazed trail.

NHL006

Location: 35.052699, -83.477499

Reach 5,280-foot summit of Albert Mountain with 360-degree views from the observation tower

NHL007

Location: 35.049865, -83.473281

Drop into Bearpen Gap. Stay on the AT at junctions in .25 and .4 miles.

NHL008

Location: 35.035307, -83.470178

Mooney Gap (4,480 feet). Continue south on AT past Betty Creek Gap along Little Ridgepole Mountain.

NHL009

Location: 34.999455, -83.49445

Need water? Take the .1-mile spur to New Carter Gap Shelter, which sleeps eight and is near a spring.

NHL010

Location: 35.010004, -83.525733

Start the 1,000-foot climb out of Beech Gap (4,480 feet) to the Tennessee Valley Divide ridgeline.

NHL011

Location: 35.036354, -83.53734

The tower atop 5,498-foot Standing Indian bald has choice sunset views. Arrive early for campsites.

NHL012

Location: 35.041179, -83.547945

Tank up at Standing Indian Shelter, then close the loop with a 5.7-mile hike down the Lower Ridge Trail.

View E from Mt Albert Panorama

Location: 35.05248, -83.477229

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

View S from Mt Albert Panorama

Location: 35.052972, -83.477409

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

View N from Mt Albert Panorama

Location: 35.052926, -83.47698

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

View W from Mt Albert Panorama

Location: 35.05278, -83.477984

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

Standing Indian Afternoon Panorama

Location: 35.035319, -83.538097

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

Lake Chatuge from Standing Indian.jpg

Location: 35.035327, -83.538105

Tallula River Basin Panorama.jpg

Location: 35.03463, -83.537856

Standing Indian Panorama Southern Overloook.jpg

Location: 35.03397, -83.537507

View SE from AT Panorama.jpg

Location: 35.00785, -83.481119

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

Standing Indian Panorama Sunset.jpg

Location: 35.035304, -83.537965

Standing Indian Panorama Sunset2.jpg

Location: 35.035304, -83.537965

Standing Indian Panorama AM.jpg

Location: 35.035304, -83.537965

IMG_0041.jpg

Location: 35.07475, -83.527315

IMG_0043.jpg

Location: 35.074629, -83.527239

IMG_0048.jpg

Location: 35.075385, -83.508032

PICT3681.JPG

Location: 35.076668, -83.505239

PICT3688.JPG

Location: 35.077083, -83.502199

IMG_0058.jpg

Location: 35.062377, -83.486

IMG_0061.jpg

Location: 35.059049, -83.47838

IMG_0066.jpg

Location: 35.058914, -83.477995

PICT3724.JPG

Location: 35.052361, -83.476932

IMG_0070.jpg

Location: 35.052536, -83.477211

PICT3728.JPG

Location: 35.040058, -83.471792

IMG_0075.jpg

Location: 35.040241, -83.471796

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0079.jpg

Location: 35.026622, -83.493687

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0086.jpg

Location: 35.028355, -83.478616

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0089.jpg

Location: 35.01859, -83.47785

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0096.jpg

Location: 34.999665, -83.494763

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0110.jpg

Location: 35.012941, -83.522756

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0103.jpg

Location: 35.005431, -83.518888

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0105.jpg

Location: 35.009081, -83.525858

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

IMG_0129.jpg

Location: 35.05167, -83.533396

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

PICT3779.JPG

Location: 35.035329, -83.538053

Image Credit: Steven Kruse

PICT3828.JPG

Location: 35.035301, -83.53796