The Bold And The Beautiful Mooney Falls

(Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

(Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

You want waterfalls? Have we got waterfalls! They’re everywhere around the Nantahala Mountains. Little ones. Big ones. And some grand ones too.

You can easily see several waterfalls along the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, which is great for sightseeing, but, for the more adventurous souls, there are many more waterfalls to see off the beaten path.

So if you want to avoid the tourists, the crowds and the congestion, you’ll want to get out of your car and head off into the woods.



Take Mooney Falls, for example; it’s big, bold and dramatic. It’s situated only two tenths of a mile off Forest Service Road 67 in Standing Indian. It’s a very short walk – with long, gentle switchbacks – and there’s hardly ever anyone there.

Upper Mooney Falls

Upper Mooney Falls

Lower Mooney Falls

Lower Mooney Falls

This might have something to do with its remote location. Mooney Falls is about 6 miles past the Backcountry Info Center on a scenic, basically one lane gravel road. It’s not like people are just passing by on their way to somewhere else.

Most tourists won’t venture this far off the main road unless they’re interested in hiking, which makes it perfect for enjoying the beauty and solitude of this spectacular waterfall.

You’ll never have to compete for prime photo ops at Mooney Falls. It’s about as far off the beaten path as you can get. In fact, I’ve always had it to myself whenever I’ve visited.

Check it out yourself sometime. Oh! And let me know if you do. I’d love to hear what you think.

See ya’ on the trail,

Trail at a glance
Mileage: .2 mile (one way)
Elevation change: about 200 ft
Water sources: Fill up before you go
Trailhead: 5.4 miles past the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian

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

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

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.


Standing Indian Basin and Backcountry Info Center

Standing Indian Sign DIRECTIONS: From the intersection of 441 and 64 W in Franklin, NC, drive west on 64/Murphy Road for 11.8 miles. Turn left on W. Old Murphy Road (sometimes shown on maps as Allison Creek Rd). Drive 1.9 miles and turn right on Forest Service Road 67. Drive an additional 1.9 miles to the Standing Indian Campground or 2 miles to the Backcountry Information Center.

Located in the Nantahala Mountain Range of western North Carolina, the Standing Indian Basin offers a variety of outdoor activities, including day hiking, back packing, tent and trailer camping, horseback riding and much more.Infomation kiosk at the Backcountry Info Center, Standing Indian Basin

It’s a veritable outdoor paradise.

Unlimited Hiking Opportunities

Hiking trails in the Standing Indian Basin include:

Long Branch Trail (2.3 miles)
Lower Ridge Trail (4.1 miles)
Park Ridge Trail (3.7 miles)
Park Creek Trail (5.3 miles)
Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop (4.9 miles)
Kimsey Creek Trail (4.1 miles)
Bear Pen Gap Trail (2.5 miles)
Timber Ridge Trail (2.3 miles)
Mooney Falls (.2 miles)
Beech Gap Trail (2.9 miles)
Waslik Poplar Trail (0.7 miles)
Big Laurel Falls Trail (0.5 miles)
Appalachian Trail (2184 miles or 21 miles in and around Standing Indian)

Kimsey Crk SignSome people will use the campground as a base camp, taking day hikes on various trails. But you’re certainly not limited to this option.

Nearly all of the trails within Standing Indian either connect to the Appalachian Trail or to Forest Service Roads that can be used as connectors to other trails. This makes it easy to create loops of various lengths for long weekends or week long backpacking trips.

There is also an extensive system of horseback riding trails throughout Standing Indian that can be used by hikers as well.

For convenience, Long Branch, Lower Ridge, Park Ridge, Park Creek and Kimsey Creek Trail sign all originate from the Backcountry Info Center.

Unlimited Camping Opportunities

If you’re looking for great camping as you explore Standing Indian you have several options to choose from. There’s the main campground (fee area) available for tents and camper trailers, a secondary “primitive” campground area known as Hurricane about 2 miles past the Backcountry Info Center, numerous “pack in” campsites along the trail system, and four AT shelters (Standing Indian, Carter Gap, Long Branch and Rock Gap) along the perimeter of the Standing Indian Basin.

Kimsey Creek

Kimsey Creek

Water, Water Everywhere

One of the highlights of Standing Indian is water – water is everywhere. Being a geological “basin,” it’s a huge watershed for the Nantahala River with springs, branches, streams, cascading falls, deep water pools and raging rapids.

You’re never far from a source of water in Standing Indian, making it one of the most lush and biologically diverse ecosystems anywhere.

Upper Nantahala River

Upper Nantahala River

Standing Indian is amazing…and it’s worth the time it takes to visit.

Ever been there yourself? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

See ya’ on the trail,

A Family Trip To Rufus Morgan Falls

Rufus Morgan SignPack a lunch. Pack the kids. It’s time for a fun, family outing.

And since we’re going to Rufus Morgan falls, you better pack some extra clothes. If your kids are anything like mine, they’re going to get wet. And that’s OK! This trip is all about water…lots of water.


A great family hike needs to have a great destination; a fun destination; a destination that will hold a kid’s attention and motivate them to keep walking, not whining.

Rufus Morgan Falls offers all this with a relatively easy hike for most family members. It’s only a half mile walk to the falls and the gentle switchbacks make the small elevation gain tolerable.

The Bridge - in the middle of the stream!

The Bridge – in the middle of the stream!

This is what the path looks like in April.

This is what the path looks like in April.

The hardest part for younger children, 5 years old and upward, will be the stream crossings. Little legs may find it hard to step from one stone to the next. But, remember, that’s why we brought a change of clothes. And, besides, you know how kids, water and mud mix. The three are natural friends.

In the spring, the walk is punctuated by many wild flowers blooming along the path. In summer, with the heavy canopy, this walk offers a cool alternative on a hot day. And in the fall, the colorful foliage will make you feel as though it’s a completely different place.

White Flowers

Yellow FlowerAll the seasons are wonderful, but spring generally provides the best view of the falls. There’s so much water coming down the mountain in spring that sometimes you can’t tell the difference between the path and the stream.

But you won’t mind. The roar of the falls and the enticing build up cascading water beckons you onward, cheerfully wooing children with plenty of little waterfalls along the way; each one getting bigger and more dramatic as you go until…WOW!…you’re standing under one of the tallest waterfalls in the Nantahala Mountains.

One of the lower falls that entices you to keep going.

One of the lower falls.

And finally, you reach Rufus Morgan Falls!

And finally, you reach Rufus Morgan Falls!

Anywhere along the way you can let your little ones play in the stream or explore around the rocks. And, depending on how warm it is, you might like to play too.

The trail to Rufus Morgan Falls is a great introduction for children to “backcountry” hiking. It’s short and not too difficult and can be used as a stepping stone to more challenging hikes.

Look closely…and you will see our dog.

Rufus Morgan Falls Trail is marked as 27. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

Rufus Morgan Falls Trail is marked as 27. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

And be sure you have your camera! There will be plenty of photo ops. Just think how much Grandma would love to have a picture of your kids in front of a big waterfall.

When you’re ready to go, you can complete the mile long loop by continuing on the trail. It’s an easy downhill walk which will lead you right back at the trailhead.

See ya’ on the trail,

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 1 mile (loop)
Elevation change: 310 ft
Water sources: Stream/Spring
Trailhead: Take Wayah Road west out of Franklin, NC. Turn left on FS Road 388. Drive 2.1 miles to trailhead. This road is closed from the first working day after New Years until April 1st.

Long Branch Shelter – The Newest In The Nantahala Mountains

I made it! Finally. After several failed attempts I got to visit the newest AT shelter in the Nantahala Mountains. And what a beauty it is!

Our newest two story timber frame AT shelter!

Our newest two story timber frame AT shelter!

The Long Branch Shelter is situated near the head waters of Long Branch, which flows into the Standing Indian Basin. It’s a beautiful, two story timber frame shelter with a separate moldering privy, a fire pit and a good source of water.

Nicely situated at the end of a gentle ridge, Long Branch Shelter looks to the northeast over Standing Indian Basin. And it appears it would keep a tired hiker well protected from the elements.

I was very lucky last night to find five hikers calling it home for the evening. They raved about their accommodations and asked if I would pass their appreciation onto other members of the Nantahala Hiking Club.

Of course, I would.

They also asked what time the hiking club served breakfast, but I think my reply disappointed them slightly.

Anyway, I love how the trail brings people together from all over. Two of the hikers were from Indianapolis, one from CT, one from Saluda, NC and the fifth one from NJ. They were all retired gentlemen from different walks of like, but living one common dream for now.

Two of them have trail journals and if you’d like to follow their progress, you can find them here:

Another hiker, Stopsalot, has a blog and when I find it, I’ll add it to this list.

I had a great time chatting with these guys and I hope they have a safe and enjoyable walk in the woods.

Another friend I met blue blazin' the Long Branch Trail

Another friend I met blue blazin’ the Long Branch Trail

Getting to the shelter – if you’re a local or you’re visiting the area and want to see it – is pretty easy despite the fact that I couldn’t find it until last night. But that had more to do with lack of signs and blue blazes when it first opened (now corrected) and then running out of daylight on subsequent attempts (days are longer now).

Simply take the Long Branch Trail from the Backcountry Info Center in Standing Indian (Forest Service Road 67, Macon County, NC) to Glassmine Gap (2.3 miles) and turn right, or southbound, on the AT. You’ll reach the blue blaze trail for Long Branch shelter, marked by a sign, about three fourths of a mile from Glass Mine Gap.

Let me know what you think of our new shelter if you ever get the chance to visit it. ‘Til then…

See ya’ on the trail,

On The AT: Tellico Gap to Burningtown Gap

Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 4.8 miles
Elevation change: 1500 ft
Water sources: Springs

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. The sky was clear and the temperature, though only 30 degrees when we left home, soared to 66 by noon.

And, as you know, there’s nothing like being on the Appalachian Trail on a beautiful day, hiking with friends, taking in the sights and sounds.

My oldest daughter and I met up with some members of the Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC); 16 people in all, plus a couple of dogs.

The plan – called a “key swap,” which was new to me – was to split up into two groups; one going southbound (SOBO) from Tellico Gap and one going northbound (NOBO) from Burningtown Gap.

My hiking buddy for the day.

My hiking buddy for the day.

The idea is to exchange car keys when you meet in the middle of the trail, hike to the opposite trailhead, drive to a designated rendezvous point and get everyone back into their correct car.

The plan actually worked out well.


Being in the SOBO group, we made our way to Tellico Gap (3850 ft), which is easily accessed from the east or west via SR 1365. There’s a small parking lot at the trailhead where the AT crosses SR 1365.

Packs on, our hiking poles extended, we paused for a few minutes to talk to a couple of thru-hikers coming down the mountain, heading north on the trail. They were excited about the warmer weather and eager to make some good miles today.

You can visit Robin and Mary’s trail journal if you’re interested in their progress or if want to get a sense of life on the trail.

Copper Ridge Bald viewBefore the day was over, we would bump into 7 more thru-hikers, a couple of section hikers and several day hikers. It was a busy day on the trail.

I can’t speak for everyone, but, for a moment, I certainly wished I was going north with the thru-hikers. A thru-hike would be an amazing adventure. Someday.

Back to our hike!


The walk out of Tellico Gap is a steep one, but surprisingly enjoyable. As the trail climbed higher, the views through the still bare trees got better and better.Rocky Bald sign

We had a clear view of the fire tower on Wesser Bald and all of the surrounding mountains and valleys, including a great view of the Smoky Mountains.

At one point we even got a glimpse of Lake Nantahala, peeking from behind the mountains.

But the highlight of the first half of the hike was Rocky Bald (5030 ft). It’s just a short blue blaze trail off the AT and well worth it.

Rocky Bald, as the name implies, is a giant, treeless rock face with stunning views of the Cowee and southern Nantahala Mountains. We spent several minutes exploring and enjoying this amazing vista.

Rocky Bald

Rocky Bald

Another great thing about Rocky Bald is that it marks the end of the dramatic 1.7 mile climb out of Tellico Gap.

Being almost noon, we marched up the trail a short way and stopped for lunch. It was a great chance to chat and get to know our hiking buddies a little better.

After lunch, we met up with the other group at Copper Ridge Bald (5080 ft). We exchanged keys – and stories – and got the run down on what’s ahead for us. There was a small section of trail on the north side of a mountain with some snow and ice. Nothing serious, but we were careful of our footing.


Looking southeast from Rocky Bald

Looking southeast from Rocky Bald

The highlight of the second half of our hike was Cold Spring shelter (4945 ft).

Cold Spring shelter is the oldest shelter in the Nantahala Mountains. It recently went through some major renovations to make it a much more comfortable place to spend the night.

Two feet of head room was added to the shelter when the lower two logs, weak from years of being wet, were replaced with new ones. The NHC also added a new floor and graded the surrounding area to keep run off from damaging the logs again.

Cold Spring ShelterBeing a rather small shelter, the NHC has also groomed some campsites less than a tenth of a mile north of the shelter. It’s a great place to stay when you’re hiking, complete with a moldering privy (sorry, no pic – someone was using it) and a bold, clean spring.

With only about a mile to go before our hike ended, it was all downhill from here…literally. A gentle downhill grade leads to the parking area at Burningtown Gap (4236 ft). It would be time to go home.

I always get somewhat sentimental when a hike is coming to an end. I wish they wouldn’t end. It would be nice if there were jobs for perpetual hikers. I’d take that job. If anyone’s offering a job like this just let me know.Vintage AT sign

But all great hikes must come to an end sooner or later, right? Even a thru-hike has an ending point.

I can’t complain. After all, it was a great day on the trail. Then again any day on the trail is a great day. In fact, a bad day on the trail is better than a great day in the office.

Where would you rather be – on the trail or in the office?

See ya’ on the trail,

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

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,