10 Favorite Hiking Trails in Nantahala

by | Nantahala National Forest

One of the best ways to enjoy nature is to get out and hike the many beautiful trails in Western North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Nantahala National Forest. Some trails lead to beautiful waterfalls, others lead to spectacular views, and others are just a nice walk in the woods or along a river. If you want to disconnect from the noise of the city and your job, grab your hiking boots and walking sticks. Here is Carolina Outfitters 10 favorite hiking trails in Nantahala National Forest.  Be sure and book a white water rafting trip with us while you’re in town for even more fun in the mountains.

hiking trail in steep wooded mountains

Wesser Bald Fire Tower

wesser bald view of mountains in summer

The Wesser Bald Fire Tower trail will take you to a decommissioned fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. It was a live-in structure at one time, but it burned down in 1979. Later a wooden platform was rebuilt for observations. This trail can be reached from two different places. The longer route begins at the head of Wesser Creek Road. Start out early on this trip or you won’t make it back to your vehicle before nightfall. It’s a moderate to difficult hike and sometimes the trail is blocked by fallen trees. The shorter hike starts off Wayah Road near Tellico Gap. At about 3 miles, this trail is not as long, but is mostly uphill. After admiring the views, you can return to your vehicle the way you came in, or keep going down the trail that leads to Wesser Creek Road. Be sure to have someone at the end to pick you up!


Bartram Falls Trail

Bartram trail over ledbetter creek bridge

Bartram trail is named for William Bartram (1739-1823) an American botanist and naturalist. In 1776 he explored what is now the Nantahala National Forest and interacted with the Native Tribes of the day. The trail is a 5.2 mile in-and-out hike that takes you to a small set of waterfalls. It’s mostly uphill which makes it a moderate to challenging hike. There are several water crossings, and the trail will take you about 3 and half hours to complete.


Pickens Nose Trail

pickens nose trail in woods

Native Americans reportedly named Pickens Nose Trail after a Revolutionary War general and veteran named Andrew Pickens who wasn’t very kind to the natives. Also, the summit resembles a sharp nose and Pickens was known for his long angular nose. This is a fairly moderate and short in-and-out trail which will only take about 45 minutes to complete. So if you have just a little time, this trail would be perfect for you. It’s located in Otto, NC which is about an hour from the Nantahala River so keep that in mind.


Winding Stair Gap

winding stairs gap trail over a metal bridge in fall color

This is a graveled road that winds up the mountain near the Nantahala Gorge and ends at Queens Lake. As you climb higher, the views get better. Be prepared for a good workout because it’s mostly uphill, but it’s all downhill hiking back to your vehicle. Cars do travel this road occasionally, so be on the lookout for them. At the entrance to Winding Stairs, is another trail that runs along the Nantahala River and is more of a paved walkway, great for a leisurely stroll to enjoy the beauty of the river. Don’t mistake it for the Winding Stairs Trail. It has its own charm and, if you pay attention to your surroundings, you will see the old Matthew and Sarah Cole homeplace where only the chimney remains. They were once a wealthy family that lived along the Nantahala River in the 1880s when the lumber trade was at its peak.


Jackrabbit Trails System


The Jackrabbit Trails near Hayesville, North Carolina are primarily mountain bike trails but hikers are allowed on them. It’s about a 4 mile loop and will take around one and a half hours to complete. The main central trail loop is fairly easy to hike, but there are other more strenuous hikes that branch off from the central trail. The trails opened in 2011 and covers 14 miles of scenic beauty including along Lake Chatuge. 


Huckleberry Knob Trail

huckleberry nob trail overlooking blue ridge mountains and green pasture

Huckleberry knob is the tallest point in Graham County, North Carolina. Folklore tells of a band of outlaws known as the Kirkland Bushwhackers roaming the mountain robbing Confederate and Union soldiers alike. Another tale involves two lumberjacks who got drunk on whisky, got lost, and froze to death on Huckleberry Knob in December of 1899. Look for their memorial when you reach the top!  The trail is near Robbinsville, North Carolina, and It’s an easy 2 1 ⁄ 2 mile round trip to see some 360 degree views.


Panther Top Trail

panther top trail fire tower

Near Murphy and Hiwassee Lake in the Nantahala National Forest this out-and-back trail is a little over two miles long and considered a moderate hike with some inclined grades on a gated gravel road. It’s a historic site with a lookout tower. From the tower you can see the Unicoi, Snowbird, Valley River, Tusquitee, and Georgia Blue Ridge Mountain ranges from the stairs. The tower was built in 1940 by the US Forest Service. The cabin remains locked, except for a few choice dates when they come out to unlock it for the public, but you can still see a great deal from the stairs.


Deep Creek Loop Trail

deep-creek wooded trail-bryson-city-nc

The Deep Creek trails are about 20 minutes from the Nantahala River and range from easy to moderate hikes that take you to waterfalls for a scenic stopping point before heading back down. Take the Juney Whank Falls trail from the parking lot, stop and admire the Juney Whank Falls, then follow the trail down to the main trail where you’ll see the Tom Branch Falls after a short hike. Hike from there and take a right before a second bridge and visit the Indian Creek Falls. 

After visiting the Indian Creek Falls, backtrack to the fork in the trails. Left takes you back to the parking lot, but the right will get you on the trail to Wiggins Cemetery (Hammer Branch of Deep Creek, North Carolina). Parts of this trail is a difficult uphill climb, so take heed. Once there, you can rest in solitude as you ponder the lives’ of those buried there in three graves belonging to Violet, Theodore, and Guy Wiggins. Graves not marked belong to Fred and R. Dorothy Wiggins. Their parents’ names were Moses Albert and Mary Elizabeth Raines Wiggins who birthed 11 children. Five of the children died before the age of two at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. This serves to remind us that families once lived and died on Deep Creek many years ago. We should strive to respect, and protect the beauty and integrity of this beautiful creek, not far from the Nantahala River, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina.


Scaly Mountain Trail

scaly-mountain-trail-with rhododendron

In the winter Scaly Mountain is good for snow tubing at Highlands Outpost and extreme tubing in the summer heat! In the summer they have the Scaly Mountain Screamer roller coaster and hiking! Be sure and check them out! A nearly 4 mile out-and-back trail near Highlands, North Carolina. It’s moderate in steepness and can be challenging at times but it has some pretty views once you reach the top. There is more than one way to hike to the top of Scaly Mountain and the Hickory Knut Road is the easiest. This is not a busy hiking trail so if you crave solitude, it’s a great place to go.


Standing Indian, Mount Albert, Nantahala Basin Loop


According to Cherokee Legend, Standing Indian Mountain is where the remains of a Cherokee Warrior resides. He was sent to the mountain to watch for a winged beast that carried away children. Unfortunately, he left his post during a lightning storm sent to destroy the beast and was turned to stone for being a coward. 

This is a very long (almost 22 miles) trail, which will take about 11 hours to complete, so plan for a full day, or even two days. This is a challenging hike so make sure you’re up for it. This isn’t a trail for beginner hikers, but advanced hikers are sure to enjoy it for the challenge.

Whatever trail you choose to hike, make sure it’s the right level of intensity for you and be safe. Looking for biking trails? Check out our favorites.  Always let someone know where you’ll be going. We at Carolina Outfitters look forward to booking your rafting adventure to round out a fantastic vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western, North Carolina.

Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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