Long Branch Trail



If I were to base the popularity of a trail solely on the number of people I’ve passed, then Long Branch Trail is the most popular trail in Standing Indian.

It’s not like I’m there everyday to count, so this isn’t based on any scientific method, but it is the only trail where I consistently see other hikers. Come to think of it, most of the trails in Standing Indian I’ve had all to myself – unless I brought my family with me.

Why’s it so popular? I don’t know for sure, but it does have some good things going for it.

For one, it’s a short blue blaze trail, connecting to the AT. From there you can head NOBO or SOBO to other trails in the area, creating weekend or week long loops through the mountains.longbranch blaze (Small)longbranch

And, that’s not all.

Long Branch Trail has the perfect mix of trail features – it’s not the easiest or the hardest trail in the area, but it is a moderate trail, depending on your skill and fitness level, with some mild challenges thrown in to make it fun.

The trail has a knack of getting your heart rate up into the zone. Heck! You might even break a sweat, but it’s nothing like the difficulty of Lower Ridge Trail or several other “difficult” trails in the area.

In fact, the steepest part of the trail is the last tenth of a mile where it sharply climbs about 200 ft to the AT.

Campsite 1

Campsite 1 about a mile from the trailhead.

Campsite 2 where Long Branch Trail Crosses a horse trail.

Campsite 2 where Long Branch Trail Crosses a horse trail.

Campsite 3 just before the AT junction.

Campsite 3 just before the AT junction.

Maybe it’s popular because it offers several excellent backcountry campsites along the way…or it’s because the trail intersects with a well maintained Forest Service road and a horse trail which allows you to create endless hiking loops.

For me, I love hiking this trail for its beautiful woodland scenery. There are no views or scenic vistas to look forward to, but the trail follows Long Branch, which is a beautiful and fairly bold stream.

Just hearing the sound of Long Branch – even when you can’t see it – and you feel refreshed, invigorated, alive.

Long Branch Trail is also filled with little surprises, like the boulder field covered in green moss and the little swale that magically stays greener in the fall after the surrounding area has lost all its leaves. It’s like stepping into a warm spot on a cool fall day.

Who knows why it seems to be the most traveled path in Standing Indian?

Long Branch Trail is 86 the AT is the dotted line hi-lited orange. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

Long Branch Trail is 86. The dotted line hi-lighted orange is the AT. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

Blue blazin' on Long Branch!

Blue blazin’ on Long Branch!

Glassmine Gap

Glassmine Gap

Maybe it’s simply because the trailhead is right across the road from the Backcountry Info Center.

You should decide for yourself. Make plans to visit Long Branch Trail for your own personal experience of this little slice of Standing Indian.

But don’t be surprised if you see me on the trail too. I’m still trying to figure out why I like it so much. I’m sure it’ll be a lifelong endeavor.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again. Let me know if you’re ever in western North Carolina and you’re looking for a hike. I’d be happy to join you. Drop me a note in the comment section.

See ya’ on the trail,

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 2.3 miles (one way to the AT at Glassmine Gap)
Elevation change: 750 ft
Water sources: Streams/Springs
Trailhead: Across the road from the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian


“Frankly, I fail to see how going for a six-month, thousand-mile walk through deserts and mountains can be judged less real than spending six months working eight hours a day, five days a week, in order to earn enough money to be able to come back to a comfortable home in the evening and sit in front of a TV screen and watch the two-dimensional image of some guy talking about a book he has written on a six-month, thousand-mile walk through deserts and mountains.”

~ COLIN FLETCHER, The Complete Walker III, 1989

Silers Bald Shelter

Silers Bald Shelter

Cougars, Coyotes and Bears Oh My…

Don't Get EatenAnd Moose and Javelinas and Buffalo and…. Well, you get the picture.

It’s a good day when you come home from the wilderness in one piece. It’s an even better day when you’re not eaten by a wild animal.

Sure, it’s rare, but human attacks by wild animals do happen. We’ve all heard the stories. Some real. Some wildly exaggerated. Some completely made up.

So, what’s the real story behind wild animal attacks? What’s a myth? And what are the facts?

Just The Facts, Ma’am!

First of all, don’t let your imagination run wild. And don’t let it keep you from enjoying a hike in the woods. You’re at greater risk of injury in your own neighborhood than you are on a wilderness trail.

Simply arm yourself with the truth about wild animals, how to avoid them, what to do if you encounter one and, heaven forbid, how to survive an attack.

A little knowledge goes a long way. And a great place to start is with Dave Smith’s book, Don’t Get Eaten: The Dangers of Animals That Charge or Attack.

I’ve shared this book with lots of people over the years and every one of them has returned it relieved and at ease about wild encounters.

At less than one hundred pages, this informative book is a quick read and written in a very matter-of-fact style. Smith even provides references, which makes me feel better knowing he didn’t make things up.

“They say…”

In the midst of teaching you how to avoid and safely coexist with wild animals, Smith also dispels many of the myths and misinformation surrounding them.

For example, he addresses things like:

  • Should you fight back or play dead?
  • What wild animal kills more humans?
  • Do menstruating women need to be concerned?
  • When’s the best time of the day to avoid cougars?
  • Does Bear Spray really work?

Even though Smith’s book deals with North American animals, much of what he teaches about personal space and avoidance can be applied to many wild animals around the world.

Use Your Head

A lot of what Smith teaches is common sense. Don’t temp fate by seeing how close you can get for a photo op. And don’t assume that cuddly looking animal begging for food won’t rip your arm off.

There’s a reason why they’ve never been domesticated!

In other words, don’t be stupid! Most attacks are caused by human foolishness or negligence! (See video below.)

Do yourself – or someone you love – a favor and read Smith’s book, Don’t Get Eaten. It could save a life.

Have you had a close call with a wild animal? Tell us in the comments below how you avoided being injured.

See ya’ on the trail,

A quick search at YouTube will provide you with enough examples of what can happen when humans don’t respect the personal space of a wild animal. Here’s just one example. This woman was lucky – and she knows it.

A Little Hike To Big Laurel Falls

Big Laurel Falls

Big Laurel Falls

What a great destination! What a fabulous family hike!

The Big Laurel Falls Trail is the perfect “little” hike for people of almost any age. The path runs along bold streams and through thick Rhododendron tunnels. It’s easy to negotiate with just enough ups and downs to make it interesting.

And there’s quite a lot to see – and experience – in the half mile to the falls.Rushing Mtn Stream

A Little Piece Of History

Besides the natural beauty of the bold, rocky streams, you may notice an occasional piece of rusted old railroad track here and there.

Railroad track, you ask?! Here in the middle of a vast wilderness?

It makes you wonder how it got here, doesn’t it?

After digging around a little I found there once was a railroad grade through this remote part of Standing Indian. The path to Big Laurel Falls actually follows this grade for part of the way.

I suspect the railroad was used to haul equipment in and resources, like timber, out at one time. Whatever the reason, it makes for a great history lesson or educational mystery for your children to solve.

Trailhead on FS Road 67, 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center

Trailhead on FS Road 67, 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center

Best Time Of Year?

Anytime from spring through fall would be a great time to visit Big Laurel Falls.

In the spring, if you time it right, you’ll find an abundance of wild flowers and native plants blooming, including Trillium, Blue Eyed Grass, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel.

In the summer, when it’s hot and sticky, you’ll find a cool reprise from the heat anywhere along the trail, but particularly at the pool at the bottom of the falls.

And then in the fall, with the leaves showing off their radiant colors, you can sit by the waterfall, enjoying the spectacle of nature as you’re lulled into peaceful meditation.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Video Tour!

I could go on and on about how great this hike is, but…as they say…seeing is believing, so here are a few videos I made of my last visit. Enjoy!

Should you ever find yourself in the mountains of western North Carolina, be sure to visit Standing Indian and especially Big Laurel Falls. And, of course, let me know if you do. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

See ya’ on the trail,

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 1 mile round trip
Elevation change: 250 ft
Water sources: Streams/Springs
Trailhead: 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian

Cullasaja Falls

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing.
I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche.
I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”
~ John Muir

Cullasaja Falls

Bear Pen Gap Trail And Albert Mountain

Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic

Bear Pen Gap Trail is marked as 22
(Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

I found a great new trail! Well, it’s not really “new” per se. It’s actually been around for a while, but it’s new to me, so it fits the definition of a new trail as far as I’m concerned.Bearpen Sign

And, so far, this trail, Bear Pen Gap, is one of the most pleasant and enjoyable hikes I’ve been on in Standing Indian.

Meandering through a gorgeous valley between Bear Pen Mountain and Yellow Bald, roughly following the course of a bold creek, this trail, marked with blue blazes, offers gorgeous scenery, the sound of rushing water and an easy climb, compared to most trails in Standing Indian.

Flower GridI get a distinct feeling that few people venture out to Bear Pen Gap Trail. Large branches littered the path and there were no signs of overuse on the trail.

I’m not surprised. It’s off the beaten path, so to speak, being three miles past the Backcountry Info Center and away from all the other major trails in Standing Indian.

But that’s OK with me. I like the solitude of a remote hiking trail.

This is the bold creek Bearpen Gap Trail follows.

This is the bold creek Bear Pen Gap Trail follows.

My biggest impression of Bear Pen is the amount of water coming down the mountains. I must have crossed ten streams and countless springs. And, like most trails in Standing Indian, there was one point – for about a tenth of a mile – where the trail and a stream became one.

You get used to it in these mountains. It explains why this area is so lush and full of amazing wildflowers.

One of the many stream crossings.

One of the many stream crossings.

I was struck by the incredible amount of Trilliums – white ones and deep, dark red ones too. They were all over the place.

At one point, as the trail began to climb above the bold creek, I found myself in what must have been a micro-climate, which is common throughout these mountains. Warm air gets trapped in this little valley and the forest floor below was unusually green, compared to the surrounding area.IMG_3388 (Small)

You can actually feel the difference in temperature when you step into these warm pockets.

I’m guessing the vegetation in this micro-climate must be about two weeks ahead of everything else. And not far from here was a nicely situated backcountry campsite, which I imagine would be very comfortable in the spring and fall, being noticeably warmer here than elsewhere on the path.

The end of Bearpen Gap Trail at FS 67.

The end of Bear Pen Gap Trail at FS 67.

Even though there’s a 1000 foot change in elevation on this trail, the majority of this change occurs in the last half mile. The trail climbs back up to Forest Service Road 67, which makes a loop through Standing Indian as it makes its way to Albert Mountain.

This is the official end of Bear Pen Gap Trail. You can turn around here and head back to the start, or, if you’re feeling up to it, cross the road, pick up the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) and turn left (or northbound) to Albert Mountain Fire Tower.

The rocky path to the top of Albert Mountain.

The rocky path to the top of Albert Mountain. And, yes, that is a white blaze on the big boulder on the right.

The half mile to the top of Albert Mountain, with a climb of over 500 feet in elevation, is well known throughout the hiking community as the first rock scramble on the AT.

It’s not impassable, but it would help if you were in fairly good condition and not afraid to crawl over the rocks, which some folks find themselves doing at times.

I actually found it fun and exhilarating, but, of course, I wasn’t carrying a thru-hiker’s pack on my back. I’m sure that might change my perspective.

But it’s worth it! The Albert Mountain Fire Tower offers 360° views of the Nantahala Mountains, as well as view of Franklin, NC. On a clear day, you can see for miles.

Albert Mountain Fire Tower.

Albert Mountain Fire Tower.

I’m looking forward to doing this hike more often. I think you’d like it too. Let me know if you want to check it out some time. I’d be happy to go with you.

See ya’ on the trail,

Oops! I ran out of space for the rest of my pics. Oh well. I’ll just attach them below…. Make sure you check them out too.

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 2.5 miles (one way) + .5 mile if you continue to Albert Mtn fire tower
Elevation change: 1000 ft on Bearpen + 500 ft to Albert Mtn
Water sources: Streams/Springs
Trailhead: 3.3 miles past the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian

This is the junction of Bearpen Gap Trail - blue blazes - and the AT - while blaze.

This is the junction of Bear Pen Gap Trail – blue blazes – and the AT – while blaze.

The first view of the fire tower.

The first view of the fire tower.