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This beautiful forest lies in the mountains and valleys of western North Carolina between Waynesville and Murphy. Elevations in the Nantahala National Forest range from a low of 1,200 feet along the Tusquitee River below the Appalachian Dam in Cherokee County to a high of 5,800 feet at Lone Bald in Jackson County. The Cheoah, Highlands, Tusquitee, and Wayah Ranger Districts form the Nantahala National Forest. Their headquarters are in several mountain communities, situated along the western recesses of the Appalachian Mountains. The Wayah District is located in Franklin,North Carolina. With the exception of Highlands, the other three districts have taken their names from the Cherokee Indian language. Cheoah is the Cherokee word for “otter,” Tusquitee is Cherokee for “where the water dogs laughed,” and Wayah is Cherokee for “wolf.” Even the term Nantahala is a Cherokee Indian word meaning “land of the noonday sun,” a fitting name for the deep valleys and gorges where the sun only penetrates to the valley floor when directly overhead at noon. With over half a million acres, the Nantahala is the largest of the four national forests in North Carolina.
Explored in 1540 by Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto, theDeer Nantahala National Forest was established in 1920 under authority of the 1911 Weeks Act, which directed that lands be acquired for national forests to provide for timber production and regulation of flow of navigable streams. Today the Nantahala National Forest is managed under the ecosystem concept for the sustainable use of natural resources such as air and water quality, wildlife habitat, forest products, biological diversity, outdoor recreation, wilderness, serenity, and more!
Unique plant communities and endangered species are found in various areas of the Nantahala National Forest, which also offers a wide variety of recreation activities from mountain climbing to whitewater rafting. The Blue Ridge Parkway borders the eastern edge of the Nantahala National Forest in Jackson County. There are over 200 miles of hiking and horse trails within close proximity of Franklin. While permits are required for overnight trail use in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, none are required for trails in the Nantahala National Forest. The Wayah Ranger District features 52 miles of the Appalachian Trail and 35 miles of the Bartram Trail. The Appalchian Trail stretches over 2000 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The Bartram Trail is named after the well-known naturalist, William Bartram.
The Nantahala National Forest, In Macon County, North Carolina is approximately 152,400 acres and provides nearly unlimited recreational opportunities for people of all ages. Visitors can enjoy the beauty of clear mountain waters tumbling over waterfalls such as Dry Falls, Mooney Falls, Whitewater Falls, and others (for your safety, please view all waterfalls from established trails and viewing sites only). Much of the beauty of the Nantahala National Forest can be seen by driving the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. For those who want to relish the sights, sounds, and fresh smells of the forest on a more personal level, a great number of trails of varying lengths and difficulties are waiting to be traveled.
For the novice or seasoned whitewater enthusiast, a thrilling trip by raft, canoe, or kayak down the Nantahala River Gorge may result in a memory that lasts forever. The Nantahala National Forest offers developed campgrounds and picnic areas for family use and fun, or visitors may prefer to simply camp or picnic within the general forest area. Breath-taking scenery may be viewed from mountaintop vistas such as Whiteside Mountain or Wayah Bald, the latter which is famous for its beautiful flame azaleas.recreation activities Hunters can pursue whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and other species during open seasons set by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
While in Macon County, be sure to visit other nearby areas such as Joyce Kilmer Wilderness, just outside of Robbinsville, North Carolina. A figure-8 loop trail gently meanders through this ancient forest characterized by its huge yellow poplar trees. The nearby Cherohala Scenic Byway traverses rugged mountain terrain and provides exquisite distant views of the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness areas. Of course, the Nantahala National Forest also offers nearly unlimited fishing opportunities within its many clear-water streams, rivers, or mountain lakes such as Fontana Lake, Santeetlah Lake, Lake Chatuge, and others.
For more information about the Nantahala National Forest, please contact the U.S. Forest Service at the Wayah Ranger District in Franklin, Highlands Ranger District in Highlands, Cheoah Ranger District in Robbinsville, or Tusquitee Ranger District in Murphy. We hope you Wayah Fire Towerenjoy your visit to the “Land of the Noonday Sun”; the Nanathala National Forest!
For more information, visit the UNC/USDA web page on National Forests in North Carolina. The Wayah Ranger District office is located at 90 Sloan Road just off U.S. 64 West. Call 828-524-6441.
Visitor Center Hours
Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm
Saturday: 10am -4pm
November - April
Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm
Closed New Years Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day