Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness: Ike Branch - Yellowhammer Gap - Windy Gap - Slickrock Creek Loop to Wildcat Falls and Lower Falls, Robbinsville, North Carolina
Imagine a large mountain waterway winding its way through a wilderness for nearly a dozen miles with zero road access. Picture a rugged, little-traveled pathway following this waterway, crisscrossing the creek many times through deep, slick fords, circumnavigating countless blowdowns and rock scrambles. There, you've discovered the Slickrock Creek Trail! This is the best creek trail I've ever walked in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and I'm not even exaggerating. Nowhere else have I found a combination of such remote beauty and rugged wilderness trail, which never follows any of the logging roads customary to most North Carolina waterways. As if you needed more incentive to tackle this hike, the Slickrock Creek Trail features two secluded waterfalls - Wildcat Falls and Lower Falls - with swimming holes that couldn't be any more refreshing after a long summer day in the backcountry. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 15th, 2018. My plan was to day hike a lengthy loop through the heart of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Creek Wilderness backcountry. I would start off along the Slickrock Creek Trail at Cheoah Dam along US 129, but before long, I would take the Ike Branch Trail. At Yellowhammer Gap, I would pick up the Yellowhammer Gap Trail, followed by the Nichols Cove Trail and Windy Gap Trail. The Windy Gap Trail would finally bring me to Slickrock Creek, from where I'd spend the rest of the day tracing the Slickrock Creek Trail back to US 129.
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness: The Hangover via Naked Ground/Jenkins Meadow Loop, Robbinsville, North Carolina
Right on the doorstep of the quaint town of Robbinsville is the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, a massive wild area covering over 17,000 acres between the Cherohala Skyway and US 129. The area is known best for the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest - an area of virgin forest in the Little Santeetlah Creek watershed, featuring numerous old, grand trees. The wilderness area's central destination, however, is an inconspicuous rock outcropping on a lead below Haoe Bald called The Hangover. The Hangover features a breathtaking 360-degree view of the wilderness, with little in sight but endless mountain ridges and several lakes. The panoramic vista atop The Hangover encompasses Santeetlah Lake, Calderwood Lake, and the Little Tennessee River. This hike loops several trails from the Joyce Kilmer Recreation Area to visit The Hangover via the Memorial Forest. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 21st, 2018. My plan was to hike a clockwise loop with the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Poplar Cove Trail, Naked Ground Trail, Haoe Lead Trail, and Jenkins Meadow Trail. I would of course take a side trip along the Hangover Lead Trail to The Hangover.
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