While I enjoyed my time in New England and traveling down south, I did not hike too much overall. A lot of driving. And catching up means beer, eating, and talking. My sabbatical svelte self is increasing a slight bit. I need to get some good and solid hiking while back East.
Luckily my plans for Atlanta included a lot of hiking and backpacking with Joan. (And playing historian, performing some trail work, and catching with old friends and a cousin who happen to live in the Atlanta area. More about that in a separate post.)
Joan planned out a classic loop she hiked previously in sections. But she wanted to hike the loop as part of a more extensive trip.
The loop starts from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, takes in the Appalachian Trail (AT) and then hooks up to the Bartram Trail. Hiking another section of the AT completes the loop. Altogether, the route is just under 60 miles and about 4500′ gain total.
The loop itself walks along the Nantahala River, goes over southeast Appalachian balds, features wildflower views, and follows the route (more or less) of the ethnographer and naturalist William Bartram for the Bartram Trail portion.
The loop idea intrigued me. I last hiked here twenty-years ago on my AT thru-hike.
Except for this time versus my 1998 self, I’m in better shape, have lighter gear, and the weather is better!
Joan and I parked at NOC, and we went southbound on the AT.
We soon saw quite a few northbound AT hikers (presumably out hiking large sections or perhaps flipping). Though not a crowded trail versus the peak of the thru-hiking season, it seemed as all the hikers were hiking in the same direction! Joan and I ended up being our typical contrarian selves. 🙂
We soon climbed up to the ridge and enjoyed a view over the lush green hills.
A short climb up to the fire tower on Wesser Bald brought up even more expansive views of the surrounding area.
An excellent place to relax and enjoy a leisurely lunch.
We descended along the ridge and towards a gap. Typical Appalachian Trail hiking in other words.
Joan, a keen botanist at heart, pointed out a large sapling of the American Chestnut. I can only imagine what the Southeast Appalachian forest looked like with these large leaves covering the forest below. Even in a truncated state, this tree is magnificent. Alas, this sapling already showed signs of the chestnut blight.
Joan and I took a quick side trail to another viewpoint on Rocky Bald. Another view that showcased the beauty that is found in these mountains.
We reached another gap and resumed another climb. We made our way up to the trip elevation highpoint at Wayah Bald.
We did not stay long at Wayah Bald. The quiet balds seen earlier in the day seemed more to our liking.
We left the Wayah Bald hubbub behind, found a campsite for the evening, and then joined the Bartram Trail the following morning. We left the busy hiking highway and entered the lesser known path.
The Bartram Trail is more pleasant than outstanding regarding views. But the thick green tunnel of trees, the river walks, the flowers, and flowing creeks give the trail a more isolated experience than the AT. And the only significant road walk (since the trail re-route per what is shown on the NatGeo map for this stretch we did) is more of a rural road walk reminiscent of the AT circa 1960s.
The historian in me loved following a route that followed, closely, a historic journey.
We even stopped by a small restaurant on the .6 mile paved road walk for breakfast along Nantahala Lake.
The day started off in a valley and made a steady 3000′ climb up to the Appalachian Trail again as the end goal. The Bartram Trail falls proved to be a delight.
We ran out of daylight and camped below the ridge.
The following morning we again enjoyed the thick woods and the dark, green lighting of the dense forest.
We soon reached the AT and went southbound (but north via compass heading!) to complete our loop.
We enjoyed some last views off the ridgeline before descending back to NOC. Cold beer and burgers awaited!
We reached the car, changed into comfy cotton and sandals, and made our way to the restaurant overlooking the Nantahala River. A cold beer capped off a great backpacking trip!
More info: The CC Hikes website has a lot of info for this loop. I’ll just add that we did not find the navigation to be difficult at all on the Bartram Trail. A few minor blowdowns and brush, but otherwise a well-marked and easy to follow trail. The climb back to the AT was indeed noticeable but not bad overall. The .6 mile paved road walk went quick and the backcountry road walking of about 2.5 miles is pleasant IMO.