Wilderness Spotlight: Southern Nantahala Wilderness

The United States Congress designated the Southern Nantahala Wilderness in 1984 and its 23,473 acres are divided almost evenly between North Carolina and Georgia.  The area is most often visited from the popular Standing Indian Campground, about 20 minutes southwest of Franklin, NC.   Though the campground provides amenities such as hot showers, the Southern Nantahala Wilderness offers outstanding backpacking opportunities from rugged, primitive trails. 

By Wncoutdoors (NorthCarolinaWaterfalls.info) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Wncoutdoors (NorthCarolinaWaterfalls.info) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Within the NC section, thirty-two miles of the Appalachian Trail yield spectacular views of mountains over 5,000 feet.  The highest peak in the area is Standing Indian Mountain, elevation 5,499 feet.  According to legend, the mountain is named for a Cherokee warrior turned to stone while battling a winged monster who had stolen a child from the tribe.  The same lightning that transformed the guard created the area balds, removing cover from the mountaintops - places where the monster could hide.

The original timber was removed by early loggers and today rhododendron, spruce and fir grow on the ridges, while mid-range slopes are covered in mixed hardwoods.  Numerous streams cut through the area feeding the Nantahala, Hiwasee and Tallulah Rivers and bogs support species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. 

With autumn leaf season at its peak in North Carolina, it’s a great time to get out and explore the Southern Nantahala Wilderness.  The most popular trails are Lower Ridge Trail (4.1 miles), Big Indian Loop (8 miles) and Beech Gap (2.8 miles).  For maps and more information, see www.wilderness.net