Ahh, there's so many areas that I still haven't explored, including the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, which has escaped my eye up to this hike. The Standing Indian Backcountry Area, along with the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, have both the highest mountain south of the Smokies and the headwaters of the famed Nantahala River. The greenery was superb, when I went here, with few rocks even at the summit. Although the better known Albert Mountain has a fire tower and beautiful views, I decided to tackle the higher and less-visited Standing Indian Mountain, which rivals Albert Mountain in terms of views. There's many ways to access Standing Indian Mountain, although I chose the least-used one. Little did I know how hard it would get. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 25th, 2014. My plan was to park at Standing Indian Campground, and follow the Lower Ridge Trail (#28) all the way to the summit of Standing Indian Mountain and its two overlooks. I would return the same way.
R/T Length of Trail: 8.5 Miles
Duration of Hike: 5 Hours, 45 Minutes
Type of Hike: Out-and-back
Difficulty Rating: 9 out of 10; Very steep ascent, some rocky and rooty areas
Beginning Point: Parking lot and picnic area near the beginning of Standing Indian Campground
Directions: From Franklin, NC: Follow US-64 West to Old Murphy Road, 12.5 miles after the US-64/US-441 interchange. Turn left onto Old Murphy Road, and follow it for 2 miles until Standing Indian Campground Road. Follow Standing Indian Campground Road for 2 miles until the Standing Indian Campground entrance, and keep right into the campground. The first road that branches off to the left is the parking area.
I've been hiking for 3 years, and I have failed to discover a lot of impressive trail systems. I think I still haven't discovered every. The Standing Indian Backcountry Area is a good example. As I now found out, it has an extensive trail system, including trails within the boundaries of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness. When I decided to go to this area, I had a hard time deciding which trail to choose, as there were numerous options. I decided for Standing Indian Mountain, the highest mountain south of the Smokies at 5499 feet high. There's several ways to get to Standing Indian Mountain. The shortest and easiest way is from Deep Gap Trailhead on Forest Service Road 71. Another option is to go from Forest Service Road 58, following the Deep Gap Trail, and from there to Standing Indian Mountain. From the Timber Ridge Trailhead, you can follow Timber Ridge Trail to the Appalachian Trail, and follow the AT to Standing Indian Mountain. That would have to be an overnight hike though. Finally, the Lower Ridge Trail ascends from the Black Mountain Campground to the top of Standing Indian Mountain in a manageable day hike. I decided to go with the Lower Ridge Trail option, although in the future, I plan on trying out one or more of the others too.
When I arrived at the Black Mountain Campground, I was quickly faced with the fact that I had to pay $2 for the day-use area, which I didn't know. Oh well. After paying, I was in confusion. The Black Mountain Campground is huge, there are 5 different trails leaving it, and parking was limited. I inquired, and I found out that the main parking area for all of the trails was on the left just after the pay station. There was a Parking and Picnic Area sign. Although the parking lot was far from full, I saw almost no people on the trail, while there were lots of cars at the parking lot. I wasn't sure where all the people were. Maybe the other trails...? Anyway, don't think the trail starts at the parking lot. Once you're parked, go out of the parking lot, and turn left onto the campground road. It's about 0.1 mile down the road to the Nantahala River. Along the way, a blue-blazed path went to the left, signed "Backcountry Information Booth --->". Out of curiosity, I went to check it out. The path crossed a footbridge over Long Branch, and then progressed slightly uphill. And it went, and went, and went. After a little while, I lost interest in continuing further. Wherever the "information booth" was,it wasn't close. I am not sure who would be interested to go that far. I returned back to the road, and then crossed the Nantahala River on a large bridge. On the other side was the actual trailhead, with a big "No Parking" sign. The Kimsey Creek, Park Creek, and Park Ridge Trails were all to the right. The only trail that went left was the Lower Ridge Trail, and that was mine. Don't be deceived by the rating as "More Difficult". The little first section was Easy, but that didn't really have anything to do with the rest 4/5 of the trail. The trail started off by following the banks of the Nantahala River. The trail quickly reached one of the campground loop roads, crossed a bridge on it, and dropped off on the other side. A little later, it crossed the campground loop road again, and then proceeded to follow the smaller Kimsey Creek. After the last crossing of the campground loop road, the "real" trail started. The ascent was slowly ramping up. There was a crossing of Kimsey Creek soon. Although a little tricky, rock hopping was quite possible. There were some logs to help too. The trail steepened after this. Shortly after the creek crossings, the trail crossed an overgrown forest road, and a steady ascent commenced. The trail crossed a couple small streams, and then started switchbacking up the hillside. So far, so good. The ascent, although steady, was never too steep here, due to the aid of switchbacks.
There were a few fallen trees along the way up the switchbacks. there was one more tributary crossing, and then the trail gradually kept ascending without switchbacks. About 1.5 miles from the start, I reached the Southern Nantahala Wilderness boundary. the sign was lying on the ground. After this, the trail reached a gap on Lower Trail Ridge.It would be following the ridge or staying close to it for the rest of the time. I noticed how green the surroundings were. It seemed like I had arrived right in spring greenery. Beautiful and peaceful. Somewhere in this area I met the only people I would see on the entire trail, minus the campers at the top on the AT. It was a young couple. After the gap, the trail continued a steady ascent to the top of an unnamed mountain. The summit was reached at around 2 miles. Right after the summit, there was a large campsite and good winter views to the north. On this Late May day, though, views were sporadic. After this campsite, the trail steeply descended into John Gap, a large grassy and fern-filled clearing. After this, the trail didn't directly ascend the next mountain, but rather followed the contours of it. The next mile wasn't too comfortable. the path was rocky and rooty, and it kept jumping up and down. It was a nice break to the earlier climbing though. After entering another gap, the trail steeply ascended up Frog Mountain, and bypassed the summit. It reached Frank Gap at around 3 miles, which was when a brief downpour happened. The rain was somewhat heavy, but lasted only 5-10 minutes. After this, the trail started ascending the third and final mountain, Standing Indian Mountain. I found this last ascent to be the hardest part of the hike. At first it was gradual, but without any switchbacks. About 3.5 miles from the start, the trail reached a false "summit". Just before the "summit", it looked like I was finished, but once I reached the "summit", I saw the steepest ascent was still ahead. After a very short break from ascending, the steep part started. It was almost straight up mountains, with few curves, let alone switchbacks. I made it through okay, but it may not be suitable for older people. Near the end, the greenery suddenly turned into rhododendron thickets. Looks like the trail entered a different ecosystem. At 4 miles, the trail reached a junction with the Appalachian Trail. Turning right leads to Deep Gap, while turning left leads to Carters Gap and Albert Mountain. Meanwhile, the Lower Ridge Trail continued forward toward the summit of Standing Indian Mountain. There were several camping spots in the summit area that looked really good. The final stretch of the trail ascended to the top of Standing Indian Mountain, and in a large clearing, to fantastic views. I thought this was the best overlook, but I followed the blue blazes a little farther down the ridge, and reached the end of he trail at 4.1 miles, and the main view. Wow! This was an incredible panorama.
In front of me (to my west) I could see the Tallulah River headwaters, and beyond that Hiawassee, GA, and Lake Chatuge. To my right (north), I could see the vast expanse of the mountains in the Standing Indian area, as well as the clouds that were putting down rain earlier. To my left (south), I could see the Tallulah River valley, Tate City, GA, and Lake Burton, GA. It seemed like I was only a couple miles from the NC/GA state line. The panorama was incredible. I could have stayed for hours.
I spent about 15 minutes here, and then I returned the same way I came up. The descent was steep in many places, and I could feel the pressure on my ankles. Because of this, the descent wasn't that much harder than the ascent. On the unnamed mountain, I heard a deer running, and near the end, just before the campground, a weird crash occurred. Something like a really large tree branch falling. Maybe a bear?
in summary, the hike to Standing Indian Mountain is highly recommended, but not quite in the way I did. I would recommend accessing Standing Indian Mountain from Deep Gap. You have to be in good shape to hike the Lower Ridge Trail, as it's HARD. No matter how you put it, all the views at the top are an incredible reward. below are my pictures and a video. Happy trails!
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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