Lower Ridge Trail And Its Three Personalities

Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic

Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic

So, you’re ready for a challenging hike? Have I got one for you.

Get in shape. Gear up. Pack plenty of food and snacks. We’re going to Lower Ridge Trail at Standing Indian.

Designated as “More Difficult” and marked with blue blazes, Lower Ridge Trail is not for the casual hiker or the family out for a walk in the woods with young kids. This bad boy trail will test your mettle and make you question what you’re doing there in the first place.

But, don’t let this scare you off. It does have its redeeming qualities. Lower Ridge Trail will reward you with some amazing landscapes, gorgeous streams and a unique ridge walk.

I originally did this trail from bottom to top. I DON’T recommend this approach. You’re much better off coming down Lower Ridge Trail from the Appalachian Trail as part of a loop with another trail, like Kimsey Creek Trail. But if you insist, you can easily do it in one day – maybe a long day for some, but it’s not uncommon for people to camp along the trail.Gnarly Tree

First Impressions

In my experience, Lower Ridge Trail can be broken up into three distinct personalities.

The first section, starting at the lower end, is definitely the easiest. It starts at the Backcountry Info Center, and ambles along the Nantahala River and some of its feeder streams. The trail passes Standing Indian Campground and gradually climbs to one of the many soggy hollers in the Nantahala Forest.

There’s a magical quality about this section. You’ll see large, gnarly trees that somehow missed the loggers’ saws and boulders that must have tumbled from high up the mountain.

And water!
Watery Trail
Water, water everywhere! Throughout Standing Indian, you’ll find yourself walking through what appears to be a stream, but it’s not…it’s the actual path.

Kimsey Creek Trail, Long Branch Trail, Park Creek Trail are all very soggy and muddy in places and Lower Ridge Trail is no exception.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for a spring to pop up right in the middle of the trail, trickle downhill for 15 feet or more and mysteriously disappear back into the trail.

It’s all part of the charm of Standing Indian.

When The Blush Is Gone

The problem with the first section of Lower Ridge is that it lulls you into thinking it’s going to be an easy hike. But like a super villain – Mwahahahaha! – it will punch you in the stomach and laugh as you try to catch your breath.
Trail Sign
Seriously! Heed my warning. Don’t take on the second section unless you’re in fairly good shape. This is where the work starts; the real up hill climb – or crawl – begins.

How much work? We’re talking 500 feet elevation gain in less than a quarter mile. Thank God for switchbacks.

Let’s not dwell on this hellacious climb for too long. We’ll just pretend it doesn’t exist and hopefully it’ll go by fast.

On your way up, though, look for the odd sign welcoming you to the Southern Nantahala Wilderness. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s your reassurance you’re almost done with this section.

A sign along Lower Ridge Trail designating passage into the Southern Nantahala Wilderness.

So, take a deep breath and plow ahead. You can rest at the ridgeline.

True Love

After you’ve had a chance to catch your breath at the top of the ridge, look around. You’ll notice there isn’t a view – unless it’s winter in which case the lack of leaves allows you to see the southern Nantahala range and the northern Nantahala range simply by turning your head left to right.

But you didn’t come for the views, did you? You came for the challenge and if you keep telling yourself this, you’ll actually begin to believe it.

Campsite at John Gap

Campsite at John Gap

If no views, then what do you get?

What you get instead, and you’ll be all the happier for it after that climb, is a gently undulating and very pleasant ridge walk through a fern covered landscape that gradually gains elevation.

That doesn’t sound bad, does it?

And, thankfully, when the ridge does take a sharp rise, the trail skirts the ridge from one gap to the next. Watch your step here, though. The trail gets rather rocky, narrow and uneven between gaps.

The upper section of Lower Ridge Trail is also littered with large trees that had been uprooted long ago. Judging from the amount of decay and the fact that they’re all pretty much falling in the same direction, I would speculate they came down during Hurricane Opal in October of 1995, just as we were in the process of moving to western NC.A blue blaze marker along a beautiful setion of Lower Ridge Trail.Much of the upper section of Lower Ridge Trail is dominated by open woodland filled with lush ferns.The upper section of Lower Ridge Trail is littered with large, uprooted trees.

This incredibly powerful category 4 storm dropped 17 inches of rain in our area, which, combined with heavy gust of wind, toppled trees and caused widespread flooding and landslides. The remnants of the storm, all the toppled trees, are a reminder of how powerful Mother Nature can be.

Rocky Trail

Rocky trail between gaps.

Should you decide the trail is too much for one day – and I totally get it if you do – then you’ll be glad to know there are two opportunities to camp along Lower Ridge Trail.

You’ll find a campsite at John Gap and another one about a mile or more up the trail at Frank Gap. I didn’t see a water source near these campsites, but I did see some rhododendron, which is often an indication of a spring or stream nearby. Maybe someday I’ll get a chance to check this out. Maybe!

Frank Gap Site

Campsite at Frank Gap

From Frank Gap the trail slowly rises – but nothing too steep – until you get closer to the Appalachian Trail. At this point, the trail takes another sudden, and sharp climb UP to Standing Indian Mountain. It’s not very far, but after tackling the trail up to now, it might feel like forever before you get to the AT. (Again! This is another reason why it’s better to come down Lower Ridge.)

If you’re making it a day hike, you can turn around here and get a completely different view of the same trail on the way back down.

Or, and this might be a better idea if you have the time and you insist on going up Lower Ridge Trail, you can make a loop and go northbound or southbound on the AT, easily picking up another blue blaze trail, like Long Branch or Kimsey Creek, and head back down into the Standing Indian basin. This would be great for a long weekend.

Trail sign for Lower Ridge Trail along the AT at Standing Indian Mountain.Whatever you decide, have a wonderful hike. Lower Ridge Trail is worth it. Let me know what you think…and which way you go.

See ya’ on the trail,


Trail at a glance
Mileage: 4.1 (one way from Backcountry Info Center to AT at Sanding Indian Mtn.)
Elevation change: approx. 2000 ft
Water sources: Springs

Take Nothing But Pictures – Unless It’s Someone Else’s Trash

I always have a grocery sack or two in my backpack. They take up no space at all and weigh practically nothing.

Like duct tape and Ziploc bags, they come in handy whenever you have to MacGyver your way out of a tight spot – rain hat, moisture barrier, things like that.

They’re also useful for packing out what you – or someone else – packed in. Most of us don’t want to see garbage when we go for a hike. And most of us pack out our own garbage.

But there are a few people who don’t.

It’s not like we’re ever going to change them. They didn’t listen to their mothers about cleaning their room so why should they listen to us.

Instead of getting indignant about it, I just clean it up and pack it out myself. It’s not fun, but it makes me feel better.

Look what I found along the trail today. It’s a good thing I had two bags with me.
Trail TrashJust a reminder – here are the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace Ethics*:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find [This doesn’t include garbage.]
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

You can learn more details about these Seven Principles and The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics at http://lnt.org/learn/7-principles.

There’s a reason we enjoy the great outdoors. Together we can keep it that way.

See ya’ on the trail,


*The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

The Bartram Trail: Wallace Branch to William’s Pulpit

Bartram View

View from William’s Pulpit

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 4 miles roundtrip
Elevation change: 1000 ft in 2 miles
Water sources: Streams/Open water, Seasonal spring

Short on time, but still want to get a good hike in? I know the perfect trail for you.

Nestled in a rural residential community right on the edge of Franklin, NC, the Wallace Branch trailhead of the Bartram Trail offers a challenging hike with natural beauty you seldom see so close to a town.

William's Pulpit is right above the Bartram Trail insignia on the map.

William’s Pulpit is right above the Bartram Trail insignia on the map. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

This section of the Bartram Trail will take you all the way up to Wayah Bald where it crosses the AT and continues onward toward Lake Nantahala – and beyond.

But we’re not going that far today. Today we’re going to William’s Pulpit, a 100′ long rock shelf with an amazing view of the southern Nantahala Mountain range.

Here are some highlights of what you can expect on your way to William’s Pulpit.

Wallace Branch is a fairly bold stream with several branches feeding into on it’s way down. And, fortunately, because of the steep terrain, there are waterfalls.

The first one is a short walk from the parking lot and it’s easy to get to. The second one? Well, it’s down in a ravine and let’s just say it’s best viewed from the trail. (Yes. I’m speaking from my own personal, hair raising experience.)Bartram Trail fallsWallace BranchThe Bartram Trail, marked by a yellow blaze, offers a vigorous climb with many scenic rewards along the way to William’s Pulpit.



Yellow Blaze



Bartram Trail green tunnel (Small)Pine cone

After a number of switch backs, steep climbs and gaps in the ridge, you’ll come to William’s Pulpit. It’s about 30 feet south of the main trail (to the left) and it’s designated by a prominent sign – miss the sign and you’ll be walking up hill all day.




The Pulpit




With a great view, the Pulpit is the perfect spot to rest before heading back down to your car.

To get to the Wallace Branch trailhead, take Sloan Road off of Hwy 64 West (just west of Franklin, NC). Turn left onto Old Murphy Road and a quick jog right onto Pressley Road. Stay on Pressley Road until it dead ends at the parking lot at Wallace Branch.






See ya’ on the trail,