FRANKLIN, N.C. — Close to where North Carolina borders both Georgia and South Carolina, the land rises high and the burgeoning Nantahala and Tallulah rivers cut through the mountains.
It's in this area that Standing Indian rises to 5,499 feet above sea level, the tallest mountain in the Southern Nantahala Wilderness.
About 14 miles west of where U.S. 64 meets U.S. 441 in Franklin, N.C., Standing Indian makes for a great place to see everything a national forest has to offer.
Recently, I drove 4˝ hours to see it all, meeting my college friend Jeanne Ferran and her fiancé Ben Burgin as well as their dogs Lily, a golden lab, and Sadie, a chocolate lab.
Because Standing Indian is not a North Carolina state park, dogs are allowed in camp and on the trails. However, they are supposed to be on a leash while at the campground.
A trip to the bald is nothing more than an overnight expedition, so the first night can be spent car camping. It costs $14 a night to rent one of Standing Indian Campground's more than 50 spots.
Cutting the area in half is the Nantahala River, a fast-flowing creek at this part of the river.
To reach the top and the 180-degree view that accompanies it, the Forest Service has cut several trails, so options are plentiful.
On this particular trip, the three of us decided to take the Kimsey Creek Trail up to its end-point, where we would continue on the Appalachian Trail.
This trail is set apart from all the others in that it's covered in water crossings. Kimsey Creek is a confluence of several streams that eventually connect before flowing into the Nantahala River.
The Kimsey Creek Trail can be followed by looking for Carolina blue blazes. That's a problem.
For the most part, the trails are well defined, as one can easily see the worn paths made from years of use.
However, just after passing a gate to keep out trucks and all-terrain vehicles, you can continue on the Kimsey Creek Trail or turn onto the Park Ridge Trail.
We accidentally took the Park Ridge Trail, while following the blue blazes and ended up about 2 miles from the Kimsey Creek Trail end-point.
The 3.7-mile Park Ridge Trail rises to Park Gap, and while no overlook views are available, this trail takes you through a forest full of tall poplar trees and growing maple trees. Clover also is everywhere.
This trail is rated as difficult and can be done at a leisurely pace while getting your heart rate racing. It took us 4˝ hours to reach the top and that was after taking a couple of breaks of 30 minutes or more.
At the top of the Park Ridge Trail, you will want to follow the gravel road to your left until you reach the Appalachian Trail at Deep Gap.
Once at the AT, you are 2 miles from the top of Standing Indian. During the summer, timing is everything, and you are likely to be caught in mid-afternoon thunderstorm.
If this happens, try to take cover in the Standing Indian Shelter, a hut 11/4 miles up the AT.
The bare spot on top of Standing Indian isn't large, but it provides a brilliant vista at the Standing Indian Basin. From this point, you're looking to the west and can see several miles on a clear day.
Little Annie Lake, less than 15 miles away, is visible beyond seven tree-filled mountain ridges, including Chunky Gal Mountain, which rises high above the other ridges.
To the west, you can see the 4,132-foot peak at Rich Knob and the 4,588-foot peak at Hightower Bald.
The most soothing part is the sound the Tallulah River makes as it cuts its way through the basin below.
But that's not the best view. Follow a path cut to the south of the bald. At about 70 yards, there's a rock outcropping between Rhododendron that allows you to see everything to the south of Standing Indian.
From there, you can see the ridges shrink until they make up the flat part of the valley.
If camping on top of Standing Indian, you won't need to bring a lot of water. A water source can be found on a side trail off the AT. With a filter, this should provide plenty of drinking and cooking water.
To get back to our cars, we took the Kimsey Creek Trail. This is an easy downhill descent that, after a long 6-mile hike off Standing Indian, allows you to take a swim in Kimsey Creek.
How to go, what to take
Getting there: Take U.S. 72 East toward Chattanooga. Take Interstate 24 in South Pittsburg, Tenn. Then take I-75 North to Cleveland, Tenn. Then take U.S. 64 East to Murphy, N.C. In Murphy, continue on U.S. 64 towards Franklin, N.C. Turn at right at Wallace Gap Road.
Follow the winding road until you see the Standing Indian Campground sign. Turn right and the pavement will take you into the parking area. What you'll need: Good hiking boots, plenty of water, light food (not heavy canned food), a water purifier; extra warm clothing, a good internal- or external-frame pack for supplies, flash light, compass, whistle, bug spray, snake-bite kit, sleeping bag, tent, camping stove, waterproof matches, and a topographic map, which you can get by sending a check for $6.42 to the Wayah Ranger District, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Wayah Ranger District, 90 Sloan Road, Franklin, NC 28734
— Bradley Handwerger
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