Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Beech Creek Loop to Bull Cove Falls, High Falls, and Big Scaly Mountain Overlook, Tate City, Georgia
A classic Southern Appalachian wilderness hike, the Beech Creek Loop is a 'must-do' for all classes of hikers alike. I'll add that the Beech Creek Loop is among the top hikes that I have ever done, in Georgia or elsewhere. Over its eight-mile course, the loop visits two spectacular waterfalls - one of which is about 100 feet high - and passes a lengthy but worthwhile side trail to a breathtaking 180-degree view from Big Scaly Mountain into the Tallulah River Valley. In addition, the trail provides a perfect wilderness experience, full of solitude all throughout the Beech Creek gorge and on the slopes of Big Scaly Mountain. A short stretch of roadwalk is necessary to close the loop, but even walking along Tallulah River Road is nice, as you will get several views of the Tallulah River and its cascades. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Beech Creek Loop counter-clockwise, although I would use two cars to eliminate the 1.2-mile roadwalk. Along the way, I would take short side trips to Bull Cove Falls and High Falls and a much longer side trip to the vista on Big Scaly Mountain. Note that if you do the Beech Creek Loop, you must by all means take the time to go to the overlook as well.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Holden Cove Trail/Appalachian Trail/Bly Gap Trail Loop to Oversoul Falls, Ravenrock Cliff Overlook, and Fall Branch Falls, Tate City, Georgia
The Upper Tallulah River splits the Southern Nantahala Wilderness's lower region into two nearly separate parts. To the east of the Tallulah River, some of the wilderness's most famous landmarks are situated, such as Standing Indian Mountain, High Falls, and Denton Creek Falls, each of which is reached by well-used trails. The rugged terrain to the west of the Tallulah River tells a whole different story, however. Few official trails traverse this remote area, but a pair of unofficial footpaths provide access from the bottom of the valley all the way to the ridgetops. A beautiful waterfall called Oversoul Falls is found along the unmaintained Holden Cove Trail, and a difficult trek away from the Bly Gap Trail will lead an experienced hiker to Fall Branch Falls, a long series of steep cascades and slides. Even the Appalachian Trail in this area is used lightly compared to many other sections of the AT, and you're not likely to meet any people along the way to the breathtaking Ravenrock Cliff Overlook. This hike was occurred on Saturday, May 20th, 2017. My plan was to begin the day with a surprisingly difficult bushwhack from the Bly Gap Trailhead to Fall Branch Falls. Then, I would move on the main hike of the day, placing a second car at the Holden Cove Trailhead and hiking the Holden Cove Trail past Oversoul Falls to the Appalachian Trail and to Ravenrock Cliff Overlook. I would finish the hike by following the AT to Bly Gap and then hiking the Bly Gap Trail back to the first car. Folks without the option of taking two cars for the hike would have to make a final 2-mile roadwalk to complete the loop.
Chattooga Wild and Scenic River: Upper Chattooga River Slot Canyon via Chattooga River Trail from Bullpen Bridge, Highlands, North Carolina
The definition of the term slot canyon is "a narrow canyon formed by the wear of water rushing through rock". These unique canyons are fairly common in the Desert Southwest sector (such as in Utah or Arizona) of the United States. What if I told you that there is a slot canyon, or several, in southwest North Carolina? Are you baffled yet? It is actually the truth, as there are a few isolated and very rare slot canyons on some of the mountain rivers and creeks in southwest North Carolina and adjacent portions of extreme northeast Georgia. At the Upper Chattooga River Slot Canyon, the mighty river gets squeezed into an unusually deep and very picturesque alleyway that is no more than a few feet wide. Two small but photogenic waterfalls act as bonuses to this already excellent hike. There might still be more slot canyons out there in the Blue Ridge Mountains, waiting for their turns to be discovered and introduced to the public. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 25th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Chattooga River Trail out and back from Bullpen Bridge to a goat path that would take me to the Chattooga River, from where I'd walk upstream to Whoa Nellie! Sieve and the Upper Chattooga River Slot Canyon. After the hike, I would make the scramble to Potholes Falls at Bullpen Bridge.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Boogerman Trail and Big Fork Ridge Trail, Maggie Valley, North Carolina
The Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place where beauty and history mingle together. By the mid 1800s, there were several settlements in the valley, the remains of which we can still see today. The mountains around the Cataloochee Valley are home to areas of gorgeous old-growth forest, where tall trees tower proudly into the sky in areas that have never been logged. On this hike, you will first hike along the Caldwell Fork - a picturesque mountain stream - before taking the Boogerman Trail past some of the area's most remarkable trees, as well as a couple of significant historic points, including an old cemetery and an old stone wall. You will then follow the Big Fork Ridge Trail across a low ridge that separates the Caldwell Fork valley from the Cataloochee Valley, before concluding the hike along Cataloochee Road and seeing several more historical points of interest. If you're lucky, you might also spot the renowned Cataloochee elk. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike the Caldwell Fork Trail to the lower Boogerman Trail junction, from where I would follow the Boogerman Trail to its end farther up on the Caldwell Fork Trail. I would then take the Caldwell Fork Trail to the Big Fork Ridge Trail, which I would follow to Cataloochee Road. I would finish the hike by walking Cataloochee Road back to the trailhead.
Nantahala National Forest: Greenland Creek Trail, Devil's Elbow Trail, and Shelton-Pisgah Trail to Shelton-Pisgah Mountain and Panthertail Mountain, Cashiers, North Carolina
Panthertown Valley is a mecca for outdoor recreation, with over a dozen waterfalls and many mountains that provide spectacular views. Some locations, such as Schoolhouse Falls and Little Green Mountain, are very popular. Other locations, such as Riding Ford Falls and Panthertail Mountain, are seldom visited or even heard of. On this hike, you will get to see as many as five waterfalls, with several others just a short ways off. Also, you'll visit two mountaintop vistas, with a third one nearby. Just make sure not to stray off too far on the unclear trail system on Panthertail Mountain, because you might have a long way back. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 28th, 2016. My plan was to begin this hike at Cold Mountain Gap, where I would take the Mac's Gap Trail to Greenland Creek. After hiking te short spur trail to Greenland Creek Falls, I would take the Greenland Creek Trail downstream along Greenland Creek, before turning onto an unofficial trail that led past Mac's Falls and Pothole Falls to Schoolhouse Falls. From Schoolhouse Falls, I would follow the Devil's Elbow Trail to its terminus at Shelton-Pisgah Trail, (with a short side trip to Riding Ford Falls along the way). Then, I would take the Shelton-Pisgah Trail across Shelton-Pisgah Mountain, before venturing onto a set of unofficial trails to Panthertail Mountain. From here, my plan was to return to Panthertown Valley by way of Little Green Creek, but things turned out otherwise, and I ended up following an unknown-to-me trail to Cold Mountain Gap Road.
The 77-mile Foothills Trail straddles the North Carolina and South Carolina border for much of its trek through the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. One particular section between SC 130 and US 178 is nearly 30 miles long and is known for very limited road access. A very rough ATV road - used mainly by hunters - called Musterground Road, is open during hunting seasons. This road provides access to the Foothills Trail several miles east of the traditional Lower Whitewater Falls Trailhead. The section of the Foothills Trail east of Musterground Road visits Hilliard Falls, a tall waterfall on Bearcamp Creek, before using forest roads to wind through hills before reaching the Horsepasture River. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 30, 2016. My plan was to use an abandoned forest road to get to the Foothills Trail from Musterground Road. From there, i would follow the Foothills Trail to the Horsepasture River, with a side trip to Hilliard Falls. I would return the same way.
Citico Creek Wilderness: Forest Road 217H and Bob Bald Connector Trail to Bob Bald, Tellico Plains, Tennessee
The Unicoi Mountains straddle the Tennessee/North Carolina border in the Cherohala Skyway area. Bob Bald is one of the higher mountains in the range. At an elevation of 5294 feet, Bob Bald provides extensive views of the Citico Creek Wilderness and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. There are several different ways to reach Bob Bald, but the easiest one is from Beech Gap on the Cherohala Skyway. You will first follow an abandoned forest road along the State Line Ridge, before taking off onto a singletrack trail that leads straight to Bob Bald. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 27, 2016. My plan was to hike closed Forest Road 217H from Beech Gap to the Bob Bald Connector Trail. From there, I would take the Bob Bald Connector Trail to the summit of Bob Bald. After visiting Bob Bald, I would return the same way.
Gorges State Park is North Carolina's newest and westernmost state park, located in the area where Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina meet. The crown jewel of this still-developing park is the Rainbow Falls Trail, a normally easy hike that leads you to four spectacular waterfalls in the Horsepasture River gorge. On a day with 14-18 inches of fresh snow on the ground, however, the hike may not be so easy. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 23rd, 2016. My plan was to hike the Rainbow Falls Trail in the park out and back, visiting Stairstep Falls, Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, and Drift Falls. I also planned to visit Raymond Fisher Pond and perhaps try some of the other short trails in the park. However, my plans were altered due to a heavy snowstorm that hit the region on the day before. All of western North Carolina got upwards of a half-foot of snow, with some areas (such as Gorges State Park) receiving as much as 18 inches. This caused Gorges State Park to be closed, and when I did this hike, I hiked the entrance road which added several miles more to my hike. Additionally, I was the first person to hike the Rainbow Falls Trail after snow, and with there being no previous footprints, it was a very slow and difficult hike. Thus, I was only able to hike the Rainbow Falls Trail to Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, and Drift Falls.
Nantahala National Forest: Bearpen Gap Trail to Albert Mountain and Long Branch Trail, Franklin, North Carolina
The Standing Indian Backcountry Area and the Southern Nantahala Wilderness comprise one unbroken tract of mountains and deep river valleys near the town of Franklin. The headquarters of Nantahala River, one of North Carolina's best-known rivers, are located here. Dozens of miles of hiking trails weave through the area. Two mountains are the key destinations in the region: Albert Mountain and Standing Indian Mountain. On this hike, you'll have the opportunity to use seldom-traveled trails in a loop or shuttle hike that visits the summit of Albert Mountain. This hike occurred on December 5th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Bearpen Gap Trail from the lower end near the Nantahala River to the upper end at the Appalachian Trail. From there, I would follow the Appalachian Trail up and over Albert Mountain to the Long Branch Trail. Using the Long Branch Trail, I would return to FS 67 and the Nantahala River area. I would finish by walking FS 67 back to the Bearpen Trail.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Looking Glass Rock Overlook to Black Balsam Mountain and Tennent Mountain via MST and Art Loeb Trail, Brevard, North Carolina
The Shining Rock Wilderness and adjacent areas is North Carolina's High Country. A multitude of peaks, some above 6000 feet, with astonishing views is accessed via rugged, wilderness pathways from the Blue Ridge Parkway. As you immerse into the backcountry of this wild region, you will also see many water features and scenic streams. My long, difficult hike in this area proved to be spectacular on one fall day when the fall colors were at peak level. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 17th, 2015. My plan was to follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Looking Glass Rock Overlook to Black Balsam Road, with a stop along the way at Skinny Dip Falls and a short side trip to Second Falls in Graveyard Fields. From Black Balsam Road, I would follow the Art Loeb Trail over Black Balsam Mountain, Tennent Mountain, and to Ivestor Gap. From Ivestor Gap, I would take the Greasy Cove Trail to the Big East Fork, and finally, I would take the Big East Fork Trail back to Looking Glass Overlook.
Nantahala National Forest: Snowbird Creek Trail, Sassafras Creek Trail, and Burntrock Ridge Trail Loop, Robbinsville, North Carolina
Deep in the Cheoah Ranger District of Nantahala National Forest flows a pristine wilderness waterway, Snowbird Creek. Snowbird Creek, encompassed by the large Snowbird Backcountry Area, is one of the more remote regions in western North Carolina, where trails can be overgrown streamside paths and where the junctions often go unsigned. Snowbird Creek and its tributaries sport numerous waterfalls, even some large ones - on this hike you'll get to see as many as four sizable waterfalls. It's no walk in the park to get as far as Upper Falls though - be prepared to traverse faint, steep paths on Burntrock Ridge and along Snowbird Creek. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 15th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Snowbird Creek Trail to the Sassafras Creek Trail, and then take Sassafras Creek Trail upstream along Sassafras Creek past Sassafras Creek Trail. Next, I would take the Burntrock Ridge Trail over Burntrock Ridge, ending up again on the Snowbird Creek Trail. I would take the Snowbird Creek Trail upstream to Upper Falls and then downstream to Middle Falls, Big Falls, and back to the trailhead.
Deep in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina and northeastern Tennessee lie the Highlands of Roan. This widely-known name represents one of the most beautiful spots in the Southeast, and perhaps the entire Appalachian Mountains. This series of mountain balds lies on the route of the Appalachian Trail, and quite a scenic of a hike it is. Whether you're coming here for the spring wildflowers, the autumn foliage show, or after a winter snowstorm, you're not likely to be disappointed (except it may be a little too cold in winter). Although only the most seasoned hiker will be able to do this physically difficult and tiring trek in a single day, there are several variations that can split this hike into several, and then, there's always the backpacking option. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 13th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap over Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Little Hump Mountain, finishing at Big Hump Mountain. I would return the same way. I would also take the spur trails to Grassy Ridge Bald and Overmountain Shelter.
Kephart Prong, named after Horace Kephart, is one of the major tributaries of the Oconaluftee River. The headwaters of Kephart Prong are on the south side of Mount Kephart near the Appalachian Trail. This gorgeous balloon hike takes you from the confluence of Oconaluftee River and Kephart Prong deep into the Kephart Prong drainage, and then up a climb that will get your heart pumping all the way to Charlie's Bunion, a breathtaking vista of the Tennessee side of the Smokies and into the Tennessee River Valley. Your return route takes you past more views and even a couple waterfalls. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 23rd, 2015. My plan was to hike the Kephart Prong Trail to its terminus, and then continue on the Grassy Branch Trail. From there, I would take Dry Sluice Gap Trail to the Appalachian Trail, and take the Appalachian Trail over Mount Kephart and past Charlie's Bunion. I would continue by descending down Sweat Heifer Creek Trail and finishing the hike by going back down Kephart Prong Trail.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Deep Gap Branch Trail, Appalachian Trail (Deep Gap to Beech Gap over Standing Indian Mountain), Beech Gap Connector, and Beech Creek Trail, Tate City, Georgia
Southern Nantahala Wilderness is one of only two wilderness areas in Nantahala National Forest. However, it covers some very rugged and beautiful terrain across extreme southern North Carolina and a small section of north Georgia. The Tallulah River is one of the main rivers that eventually forms the Savannah River. Its headwaters are here. On this hike, you'll have a chance to see several of the headwater streams, at least two waterfalls, and an outstanding view. One thing though - be prepared for everything except an easy hike. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 7th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Deep Gap Branch Trail from the Dreamcatcher Cove Trailhead to its end on the Appalachian Trail at Deep Gap. From there, I would follow the Appalachian Trail to check out the vista on Standing Indian Mountain, this time in it's winter state, and then continue to Beech Gap. From Beech Gap, I would take an overgrown connector trail to Beech Creek Trail, and then continue down Beech Creek Trail to its end near the North Carolina/Georgia state line. I would finish the hike with a little roadwalk.
Nantahala National Forest: Chunky Gal Trail - Tusquitee Gap to Tuni Creek, Hayesville, North Carolina
The Chunky Gal Trail is a 21-mile long hiking trail that connects the Nantahala Mountains with the Tusquitee Mountains. Despite its unfortunate name, it has many great vistas and is a good trail. This is the first time I visited it, but I was pretty happy with it - and I will return. The trail visits key peaks of the area such as Tusquitee Bald and Boetler Peak, as well as Muskrat Creek Shelter on the Appalachian Trail, which is where it ends. This hike occurred on February 14th, 2015. Originally, my plan was to hike the Chunky Gal Trail westward from Tusquitee Gap all the way to Tusquitee Bald, but it turned out to be a much longer hike than information had suggested, so I decided to turn around at some cascades on Tuni Creek.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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