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Hiking North Carolina’s Valley River Mountains

Sniff the rhododendrons and enjoy hiking the Valley Rim Trail in North Carolina's Valley River Mountains.

EXPEDITION PLANNER: Rim Trail, North Carolina

DRIVE TIME: Fires Creek is 2 hours (about

125 miles) north of Atlanta, Georgia, and

4 hours (240 miles) west of Charlotte, North Carolina.

THE WAY: From Atlanta, take US 19 north for 110 miles to Murphy, North Carolina. Drive east on US 64 for 9.4 miles and turn left onto Fires Creek Road (NC 1302). Go 3.6 miles, then turn left onto Fires Creek Wildlife Road (NC 1344) and proceed 1.8 miles to the Leatherwood Falls Picnic Area. The Rim Trail starts at the bridge just before the picnic area.

TRAILS: The Rim Trail is a 25-mile loop. Other paths add 15 more miles and shorter loop possibilities. Trails and junctions are rarely marked, so bring a map and compass.

ELEVATION: The Rim Trail ranges from 2,000 feet on Fires Creek at Leatherwood Falls to 5,250 feet atop Tusquitee Bald.

CAN’T MISS: The vista of Chatuge Lake and

the North Georgia mountains from atop

Potrock Bald.

CROWD CONTROL: The rough trails and lack of publicity have left Fires Creek well off the beaten track. Finding solitude should not be difficult, even in summer.

SEASON: Spring through fall. Winter on the balds can be surprisingly cold.

GUIDES: North Carolina Hiking Trails, by Allen de Hart (Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 800-262-4455; www.backpacker.com/bookstore; $18.95). The Tusquitee Ranger District in Murphy has a simple (and free) map of Fires Creek, but the following USGS topos are recommended: Andrews, Hayesville, and Topton (888-ASK-USGS; ask.usgs.gov).

WALK SOFTLY: Fires Creek is a black bear sanctuary. Call Tusquitee Ranger District (see Contact below) for up-to-date information on regulations.

CONTACT: Tusquitee Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest, (828) 837-5152; www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.

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