The Fishawk Mountains west of Highlands are a small ridgeline and part of the Bartram Trail's route. In this area, the mountains house massive rock faces and fantastic panoramas of the Little Tennessee River Valley and Nantahala Mountains. This is easily one of the best hikes in the Highlands area. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 16th, 2014. My plan was to start my hike at the Jones Gap Trailhead and hike on the Bartram Trail to Wolf Rock. I would return the same way. Also, I would check out Jones Knob and Whiterock Mountain along the way. I would skip the Fishawk Mountain spur, though.
R/T Length of Trail: 9.6 Miles
Duration of Hike: 5 Hours, 15 Minutes
Type of Hike: Out-and-Back with Spurs
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Amazing panoramic views; clear trail until Whiterock Mountain; no prolonged climbing; dry campsites
Cons: Poorly-blazed and periodically unclear trail after Whiterock Mountain; severe overgrowth near Wolf Rock
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter
Trail Blaze Color(s): Bartram Trail - Yellow; Jones Knob Trail - Blue; Whiterock Mountain Trail - Blue
Beginning Point: Jones Gap at the end of Jones Gap Road
Directions: From Highlands, NC: Follow US Route 64 until Turtle Pong Road goes left. This will be right after you pass Vanhook Glade Campground on the right. Turn left onto Turtle Pond Road, and follow it for about a mile before bearing right onto Dendy Orchard Road. Follow Dendy Orchard Road for a mile before pavement ends and then another 0.3 miles until Jones Gap Road goes left. You'll see a Bartram Trail Access sign. Follow Jones Gap Road for roughly 2 miles to the dead-end at the parking area and trailhead.
I am surprised about the isolation of this hike in contrast to the many, rewarding overlooks. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I didn't see a single person. Regardless, it's a great hike and here's the description.
At the parking area, there's a kiosk with a couple vague mileages given each direction. You need to head north, or in other words, turn right onto the old, gassy road at the upper end of the parking area. The Bartram Trail gently ascends along the road for 0.2 miles and then proceeds into a wildlife clearing. The clearing is large but overgrown - not much of a clearing anymore. Just past the clearing, at 0.3 miles, the Jones Knob Trail continues forward, while the BT turns right. My plan was to get the Jones Knob Trail out of the way first. It ascends for 0.2 miles up Jones Knob until a great overlook on the left with views of the valley below and the mountains beyond that. the Jones Knob Trail continued a bit more, ascending steeper to the top of Jones Knob. Reach the top of Jones Knob at 0.3 miles; here, there is a large rock face with no views, at first glance. However, there is a little path that goes down to a rough but amazing overlook. While there is not a lot of space here, the views are even more panoramic than on the first overlook. You can see some of what you saw on that overlook, but also, you can see your next destination: Whiterock Mountain, which stands on the right, with Little Fishawk Mountain farther behind it.
There's no trail continuation from here, so you have to retrace your steps back to the Bartram Trail, and turn left. The trail doesn't ascend - instead, it follows the slope on a wide trail. For a while, you will be able to see Jones Gap Road below. It's about a mile to an overlook before Whiterock Gap at 1.9 miles. You can see it on your left. It has similar views as the one from Jones Knob. Whiterock Gap comes shortly afterwards (with some descent after the overlook). Here, there is a sign with the elevation, a nice campsite, and a spur trail to Stevens Creek for anyone in need of water.
After Whiterock Gap, the trail ascends lightly for 0.4 miles to a rarely-traveled spur trail to a small spring on the right. this is your last chance to get water on this hike before you return to this spot. Shortly after the spring, at 2.4 miles, the Whiterock Mountain Trail continues forward while the Bartram Trail bears right. Once again, I was set to get the Whiterock Mountain Overlook out of the way first, so I took the trail. It's 0.3 miles of occasionally steep trail up a couple of small rock faces to the summit of Whiterock Mountain. The trail will descend down the other side of Whiterock Mountain a little bit, but don't stop. The main overlook is below the summit. Just below the summit, you will come out onto a noticeably larger rock face, although still no good views. Keep going down the rock face, and reach a cliff with an astonishing panorama of the Little Tennessee River Valley and Nantahala Mountains. I bet the highest mountain in the distance was Standing Indian Mountain or Albert Mountain. Closer up, US Route 441 passes far below in the depth of the valley. I didn't see it, but I know it was down there. To the right, you can see more of Franklin, as well as Little Fishawk Mountain and Fishawk Mountain. In addition, during the time I was here, the sun was disappearing behind a thick bank of flocus clouds (and some stratus clouds) moving into clear, blue skies. This made for some great pictures. What a view! This is definitely the best point on the entire hike, and only more professional hikers should continue forward. Once you've got your share of the view, retrace your steps back to the Bartram Trail.
Turn left onto the Bartram Trail. The section after Whiterock Mountain is much less traveled (relatively because even the first section was lightly traveled!), and the lack of blazes in many places where they were needed made this section more confusing. The trail will ascend via switchbacks up Little Fishawk Mountain over several rock faces. One of them has a great overlook to the west with similar views, except smaller, as from Whiterock Mountain. After the summit of Litrle Fishawk Mountain, the trail descended down the other side. About a mile from the Whiterock Mountain Trail, the trail reached the Fishawk Mountain Trail. I skipped this one as no views were supposed to be at the summit, only a plaque.
For the next 1.5 miles, the trail followed the slopes, at first of Fishawk Mountain. While it was not ascending or descending, the trail was sloping downward on the left side, which made for uneven and annoying footing. Eventually, it leveled out after bypassing Fishawk Mountain. Blazes were very rare here. I wasn't sure where Wolf Rock was, but after a brief ascent, the trail started steeply descending, and in the dusk, it was hard to say if there would be any overlooks ahead. I decided to turn around after a bit of the steep descend, because I had a feeling Wolf Rock was before that and I missed a spur to it.
In summary, this is an excellent hike, especially for the first half with numerous, outstanding views. However, I would appreciate input from my viewers regarding to where Wolf Rock is. Thank you. Below are my pictures and videos.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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