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North Carolina’s Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area

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.

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