Let’s go camping?! Seriously! It’ll be fun. And there’s no better place than the Standing Indian Campground in the Nantahala National Forest of western North Carolina. (Some people might get upset that I’m letting you in on this secret.)
Situated 12 miles west of Franklin, NC off Highway 64, Standing Indian Campground, at the headwaters of the Nantahala River, offers 84 campsites and 3 group sites (for parties up to 25). Some sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Others you can reserve in advance.
Each site offers a picnic table, fire ring with grill, lantern post, and tent or camper pad. Fresh water spigots and clean restrooms with flush toilets (a must for our kids!) and showers are available throughout the campground. There’s even a dump station close by for RVs.
We’ve always had wonderful experiences at Standing Indian (open April 1 – October 31). Situated at 3800 feet elevation and surrounded by 5000 foot peaks, Standing Indian is a cool, refreshing place in the hottest of summers. And everywhere you go you can hear the calming sound of running water.
In our experience, everyone’s friendly, the “hosts” are always available and ready to assist you, and people respect quiet hours. There’s always the pleasant smell of campfires, our kids seem to make “best friends” quickly, and it’s very dark at night – VERY dark, which is a great change from all the light pollution we’re used to these days.
So Much To Do!
There’s never a dull moment at Standing Indian. The whole family can play in the river and creeks, skip stones, go rafting, tubing, or kayaking, and even fish for trout (license required). You can walk around the campground, ride your bikes, go for umpteen different hikes on world class trails, visit the Appalachian Trail, ride your horses, visit waterfalls, or enjoy the views from Standing Indian Mountain and Albert Mountain.
If this sounds like too much for you, you can always stay at your campsite, reading books, writing your memoir, playing cards, meditating, napping, or simply recuperating from your hectic city life. Ahhh! Doesn’t that sound good?!
The surrounding area even offers many outstanding excursions within a short drive of Standing Indian. And if you should need groceries (more than the small camp store offers) or want a restaurant, Franklin is only 20 minutes away.
Whatever you decide to do, you can always cap the day off sitting around a campfire telling stories or reminiscing with friends and family.
Perfect for a short weekend or an extended stay (up to 14 days!), Standing Indian Campground is right in the heart of an outdoor paradise. I suggest you avoid holidays unless you’re able to reserve a site in advance. You can check availability or make reservations at www.recreation.gov.
So Let’s Go Camping!
I could wax poetic, like Emerson or Thoreau, about the virtues of reconnecting with nature, but that would be presumptuous of me to think I can do it better than them. No! Instead, I’m just going to say, “Go camping at Standing Indian!” Really. Just do it! And take the whole family with you. You won’t be sorry!
Ever been to Standing Indian? Tell us about your wonderful experience in the comment section below.
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.
I really am fortunate. Living so close to Standing Indian – and all the wonderful trails it has to offer – is, well, the best thing in the world. Really! It’s a hiker’s paradise!
I could write thousands of blog posts about it and post umpteen million beautiful photos, but it’s not the same as seeing this place for yourself.
I suppose I could – or should – leave it at that. Visit Standing Indian – period! But then this would become a very dull blog. And besides, you’d never get to read about Kimsey Creek Trail…which…you’d be better off experiencing personally rather than reading about it. But…then…well…oh!
Ok! Enough. You get the picture. You’re here. You might as well read about Kimsey Creek Trail. Then you can decide if you’d like to see it for yourself…or not. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It’s, by far, one of my favorite trails in the Standing Indian Basin.
And like many of the the trails in Standing Indian, you can pick up the Kimsey Creek Trail at the Backcountry Information Center. Just follow the signs to the junction of Kimsey Creek Trail and the Park Ridge/Park Creek loop and turn left. You’re ready to hike Kimsey Creek.
The Magic Begins
There are only a couple of steep, short inclines on the Kimsey Creek Trail and you’ll be glad to know you’re getting one of them out of the way right at the beginning. It’s not a long incline but it will elevate your heart rate, depending on what kind of shape you’re in.
As it switches back on itself and winds up the hill, you will soon find yourself walking along the Standing Indian Campground and past the outdoor amphitheater. Further on, the path descends to an old forest service road, where you’ll look down on the large group campsites, a great place for groups up to 50 campers (reservations required).
In my opinion, this old forest service road, which you’ll be on for a couple of miles, is one of the many things that makes Kimsey Creek Trail so enjoyable. This wide, scenic walk along Kimsey Creek is rather deceiving. You don’t even realize you’re gradually going uphill the whole way.
Many people will follow this section out until the path narrows again and then turn around for a short, 4 mile, out and back hike. And if this is all you end up doing, it’ll still be one of the most memorable hikes you’ve ever taken.
This section is punctuated by many water crossings, springs, and feeder streams for Kimsey Creek. So many, in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the creek and the trail. But don’t let this dissuade you! Yes. Kimsey Creek Trail is a wet trail. But it’s fun hopping from rock to rock – especially with hiking poles – or you can tramp right through the wet spots like an old pro if you want. And kids LOVE this section because of all the water.
There are also many places along Kimsey Creek where you can stop to rest, sit on a rock, or even fish for trout (though the old timers may not like me giving away their secret spots).
Waterfalls and Falling Waters
As you follow the well marked blue blazed trail, you’ll come to a small bridge where the road ends and the single lane path picks up again. The first thing you’ll see when you cross the bridge is one of many backcountry campsites along Kimsey Creek Trail. You can’t reserve these, and sometimes they’re overgrown with raspberry canes, but if you do decide to camp in one of these places remember to practice the Leave No Trace principles.
I love this section of the trail! It passes through a narrow ravine as it continues to meander along Kimsey Creek. There are several small, picturesque waterfalls, a rickety, but safe, bridge, and great places to meditate with the sound of running water dominating your senses.
And, the temperature?! Wow! Is it cool through this section – anytime of year. It’s like being in an air conditioned forest in the summer. It can be 80 degrees in Franklin, but only 65 degrees along this part of the creek. In the winter and through early spring, it’s not uncommon to see huge icicles hanging from the rock faces along the creek. And, with full leaf coverage, it almost appears to be dusk most of the day throughout this section.
It really is magical! And if you don’t go any farther than this on the trail, you’ve had a great hike. Seriously!
The second distinct incline in the trail marks the end of this section. The path climbs up and away from the creek, winding around small swales and ridges, hopping feeder streams, and past some rather large trees. Dappled sunlight makes another appearance as the ridge rises and though the canopy is thick in the summer, you may get a glimpse of blue sky letting you know it’s still daylight.
Kimsey Creek Canyon – Unofficially Speaking
Eventually you’ll come to a blue blazed tree, which looks like it has very long legs. It reminds me of the Tree Ents from Lord of the Rings. You get the feeling like it just might walk through the fern-carpeted forest at night and return to the exact same spot as the sun rises. Haha! I’m sure it doesn’t, but, then again, I haven’t spent the night at this spot to know for certain.
The trail drops sharply here and rejoins Kimsey Creek. I call this section of the trail Kimsey Creek Canyon. Oh, no! That’s not its official name. I made it up. It’s not on any cartographer’s maps. But you’re deep…well below the canopy, surrounded by steeply rising ridges, and dwarfed by the mountain tops. Often times, though you don’t feel it before or after this section, the wind roars through here as if it were the only passage it has through the mountains.
It’s not like the Grand Canyon, mind you, with sheer cliffs on either side. No. These mountains are much older, softer, worn down by time and weather. In the winter, when the leaves are gone and you can see the contour of the land around you, the canyon-like quality really shows. And the way the land opens up as you come out of this section, heading toward Deep Gap, almost gives the impression, geologically speaking, that there may have been a land bridge or ice dam many thousands of years ago, which eventually gave way to what is now Kimsey Creek, forming the Kimsey Creek Canyon.
Who knows?! But it sure is fun looking at the land and speculating on the history and the forces of nature that shape it.
The Final Accent
As the trail continues, it’s time to say goodbye to Kimsey Creek. The path begins its last ascent towards Deep Gap. There are a couple of short climbs, but overall the trail still has a fairly gradual grade, compared to other trails in Standing Indian.
When you average the elevation gain over the entire distance of the trail it’s only about 250 feet per mile. Very easy! I think the reason why the trail is listed as “moderately difficult” is because of all the water crossings, rocks, and roots you have to contend with – not the elevation gain.
Anyway, soon you will come to a large meadow adjacent to a gravel parking lot, which is accessed by US Forest Service Road 71. (Please note: USFS 71 is only open spring through fall. Check with the local Nantahal Ranger Station (email@example.com) for opening and closing dates.)
USFS 71, a six mile long, one lane, gravel road with turnouts, connects U.S. Hwy 64 with Deep Gap. Deep Gap (elev 4341) is the terminus of the Kimsey Creek Trail, trailhead for the Deep Gap Branch Trail, and a popular waypoint on the Appalachian Trail for weekenders and AT section hikers.
You’ll always find cars in the various parking lots at the end of Kimsey Creek Trail. In fact, certain times of the year this area gets quite crowded. For example, in April you’ll be hard pressed finding solitude amongst all the section hikers, thru-hikers, and the people gathering ramps, a pungent, wild onion,considered a delicacy by many, that grows rampant in this area. And, of course, again in the fall when all the leaf lookers come out for our colorful fall display.
Kimsey Creek Trail is marked as 23 and Lower Ridge Trail is marked as 28. The dotted line highlighted in orange is the Appalachian Trail. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)
How’s It Go Again? Oh, Right? Just Do It!
Kimsey Creek Trail is a great out-and-back hike that’s available year round from the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian. It’s also part of a very popular loop trail (Kimsey Creek Trail/Appalachian Trail/Lower Ridge Trail – 11 miles in total) that makes for a great, but long, day hike or a wonderful weekend backpacking trip.
BUT – and this is a big but since this is a very important Public Service Announcement – if you decide to do the loop, I strongly recommend starting with Kimsey Creek Trail first. The Lower Ridge Trail, beautiful and scenic as it may be, is quite steep in parts and is MUCH better to come down, than to go up. Believe me!
So! If you’ve made it this far, after reading all these words, I hope you realize that you really need to experience this trail for yourself – more than once and at different times of the year.
There’s magic in discovering the beauty of a trail for the first time and Kimsey Creek Trail will easily feel like a new experience every time you hike it. So…hike it! And let me know what you think about it in the comments section.
Trail at a glance Mileage: 4.1 miles one way to Deep Gap Elevation change: Approx 1000ft from Backcountry Info Center to Deep Gap Water sources: Springs/Streams Trailhead: Park at the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian and follow the signs for Kimsey Creek Trail.
Alright, I’ll be the first to admit it. This may be a little more existential than most people are ready for…BUT – and this is a big but – I’m certain I’m not the only person to have moments like this, especially in the wilderness.
Anyway. I love fall! I love the colors. I love the cooler temperatures. I love the crisp, clear blue skies. And I love the sound of walking through fallen leaves.
Our foliage is nowhere near peak right now – still lots of green in the mountains – and if not brilliant, it promises to be a good year.
I finally got to go for a walk in the woods, first time in a while, and it was the best day ever. Resting next to a bold stream, I found a deep, calm pool below a tiny waterfall. Brightly colored leaves were dancing an endless ballet, telling a story of unseen forces, in the constantly changing eddies.
In fact, if it weren’t for the leaves you would never know there were invisible currents below the surface. Much like life itself.
How could you not take pause to reflect at such a beautiful spot…at such a perfect moment?
This is, for me, what I like to call an “all is well” moment. My life works when I’m in the woods, taking time to notice what’s around me. My thoughts become clearer. My creativity soars. My spirit is renewed. And I come out more refreshed, more focused, more relaxed.
It’s the very reason why I hike so much.
Take time to find your “all is well” moments within nature. It’ll change your life and you’ll never be the same person again.
I’d love to hear what renews your spirit. Maybe it’s a gorgeous view, sitting under the largest tree in the forest or meditating on a lone boulder. I don’t know…whatever. Give us an idea in the comments section.
Looking for a good time? Maybe some wholesome family fun? Deep Creek is about as close as you can come to a natural amusement park…and a helluva lot cheaper.
We’ve been going for years and we’ve only seen and done a fraction of what’s available.
Looking upstream at the calm, lower section of Deep Creek. Great for younger kids to tube!
There’s so much to love about Deep Creek! Each time we go I promise myself we’re going to explore more of the whole area.
But, alas, I’m just a kid at heart. All we ever do, like so many times before, is tube down the half-mile long white water rapids of Deep Creek. All day long; up and down, one run after another with a little swimming thrown in now and then.
It’s so much fun. You’ve really got to try it for yourself!
Here’s a video from last year’s trip. I didn’t feel like walking back to my car to get my camera this year. It would have kept me from making another run.
Located on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain Park and just north of Bryson City, there’s so much more to Deep Creek than tubing. I know, for some of you who have been there, that’s going to sound blasphemous, but it’s true.
You’ll find lots of hiking trails, bridle trails, waterfalls, camping and picnicking around Deep Creek.
Admittedly, I’ve never done all these other fun things, but judging from their popularity, I’d still recommend them.
Useful tips I wish someone told us the first time we went tubing at Deep Creek:
Go early and plan to stay all day
Tube rentals range from $3 to $5 a day – make sure you get one with a bottom
Wear water shoes and a swim suit that won’t get pulled off by the strong water
Plan to have a picnic while you’re there.
Try to avoid weekends. They’re VERY crowded.
On this year’s trip I did manage to break tradition…slightly. I got everyone to go on a very short hike to Juney Whank Falls.
I did say very short hike, didn’t I?The trailhead is right at the main parking lot and it’s only .3 mile to the falls. Luckily everyone was interested in doing it. (I think the idea of seeing a waterfall motivated them.)
It’s an easy walk. Most of the trail is shared with a wide bridle path which meanders around Deep Creek. The grade is easy – around 200 feet elevation gain – and the trail, like most National Parks, is well maintained.
Juney Whank is a charming waterfall with about an 80-foot drop, and well worth the trip. There’s a very nice bridge spanning the falls with a built-in bench to sit and rest as you watch and listen to the tumbling water.
This is the view looking up at Juney Whank Falls.
This is the view looking down Juney Whank Falls.
You can keep walking – the trail makes a loop – or go back the way you came. Katie and I decided to head back the way we came since the kids were stating to show signs of hunger and you know how irritable hungry kids can be on the trail. It was time for dinner.
So what about next year?
Next year I promise to explore more. Serioulsy! I do. I mean I will. You can hold me to it. ‘Till then…
See ya’ on the trail,
Directions to Deep Creek:
From the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, take the Veterans Blvd exit and follow the signs to Bryson City. Stay on this road and veer right at the light just before the river. The road changes names to Slope St. Turn right on Mitchell St, then left on Everett St. Cross the railroad tracks and turn right on Depot St. Turn left on Ramseur St and then an immediate right on Deep Creek Rd. Veer left onto West Deep Creek Rd and follow this as it winds around to the Smoky Mountain Park entrance. Pick up your tubes before entering park and then drive another half mile to the Deep Creek parking area.
Don’t let the name of this waterfall fool you. It’s not really a secret. And I’m not breaking any local “code of silence” by telling you about it. Thank goodness.
It’s just so remote hardly anyone knows of it, including plenty of locals.
How remote is it? Let’s just say you have to really be committed to visiting Secret Falls. It’s literally out in the middle of the wilderness. After you’ve survived the numerous, curvy switchbacks out of Highlands, NC, you head down a long, poorly maintained, one lane gravel road.
But that’s all part of its charm.
For when it comes to waterfalls, the more remote they are, the less popular they are…and this is a good thing. As the tourists hit Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, you should plan to spend your day at Secret Falls.
How To Find Secret Falls
I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so instead of providing detailed directions, I’m simply going to refer you to a couple of friends of mine, Matt and Melinda, over at Stay And Play In The Smokies. Besides providing great directions to Secret Falls, they’re also a great resource for travel and vacation information about western North Carolina.
This relatively short trail, less than a mile from the trailhead, is very level and wide. You’ll have to cross two streams, but they both have sturdy log bridges that are easy to cross.
Once you reach the side trail to Secret Falls, there’s a short drop in elevation to the lower part of the falls. Just watch the steps – a couple of them were wobbly.
This is where you get the best view and photo ops of Secret Falls. If you visit in warmer weather, you can even take advantage of the great swimming hole.
Being relatively easy to get too and fairly safe if you keep your distance from the edge, you’ll find an incredible view looking down Secret Falls and beyond. And I imagine this would look spectacular when the fall colors are at their peak.
You can visit Secret Falls anytime of year. Go for a day or spend a night or two. Swim, fish, camp or take lots of photos. There’s so much to see and do here. Just remember to keep it nice for the next visitors and pack out anything you take with you.
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
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
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.
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
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?
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