Kilmer and Beyond
A couple of months ago I wrote about a short hike in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in southwestern North Carolina. The area has so many good places to visit that I want to make sure you know about few more.
A Soaring Observation Deck
From the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest parking area, drive back to the first four-way intersection, turn left onto NC 1127, and ascend five miles to the Maple Springs Observation Area. A handicapped accessible platform juts into space, with a 180-degree vista of the Snowbird, Unicoi, Cheoah, and Great Smoky Mountains rising high above Santeetlah Lake shimmering in the foreground. Come here in early June for an explosion of pink and white mountain laurel blossoms.
Camping, Fishing, Swimming, Boating
Santeetlah Lake is lined by 76 miles of mostly forested shoreline, with more than 50 primitive campsites and access for anglers to cast for smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, bream, and lake trout. A white sand beach is located at Cheoah Point Recreation as a protected place for the kids to swim, while several marinas rent boats of various shapes and sizes.
A Mini Blue Ridge Parkway
The Cherohala Skyway rises to more than 5,000 feet as it wiggles for 51 miles across the Unicoi Mountains from Robbinsville, North Carolina to Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Like the parkway, it has overlook pullouts to enjoy mountain crests and narrow valleys, and short trails to get on more intimate terms with the landscape. Two of my favorites are the 0.5-mile Wright Creek Trail along its namesake stream and the Hooper Bald Trail (less than one mile roundtrip) to an open summit punctuated by swaying Turk’s-cap lily plants. This is a great driving, motorcycling, and biking route. Just remember, there are no commercial establishments, so fill up with fuel, food, and water before heading out.
Adjacent to the parkway are the many miles of the proposed Snowbird Wilderness, with the main route, the Big Snowbird Trail, providing access to several waterfalls.