Southern Nantahala Wilderness

The Southern Nantahala Wilderness is a wilderness area in North Carolina and Georgia, designated in 1984.  The wilderness encompasses more than 23,000 acres, with roughly half of the area in Chatahoochee National Forest in Georgia and half in Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina.  The rugged mountains at the southern end of the Blue Ridge includes the headwaters of two major rivers - the Nantahala River running north through North Carolina and the Tallulah River running south through Georgia.

Map:

Waterfalls:

There are a number of scenic waterfalls in the wilderness area.

The Beech Creek Trail (#378) passes several waterfalls on its namesake creek or tributary.  To reach the trailhead, head to Tallulah River Road in Chattahoochee National Forest in northern Georgia.  This road becomes Forest Road 56 as it enters Nantahala National Forest.  The lower trailhead parking is less than a mile down FR-56 from the state line next to a primitive camping spot.  The trail picks up across the street.  The upper trailhead is another 1.5 miles down FR-56 at the end.  From this point start hiking Deep Gap Branch Trail (#377) for a half-mile to the other end of Beech Creek Trail.  I hiked the loop from the lower trailhead, so directions will assume starting there.

Bull Cove Falls:

From the lower trailhead, pick up Beech Creek Trail across the road from the campsite and follow a ridge steeply up and then back down to Beech Creek.  In high water, the crossing is tricky, but we were able to do it dry.  Once across, pick up the old mining road and follow Beech Creek upstream.  In about a mile from the start, the trail crosses Bull Cove Creek.  Once across, turn right and follow an obvious path a couple hundred feet upstream to the waterfall.


There are some scenic cascades on the creek downstream from the waterfall.

Bear Creek Falls:

From Bull Cove Falls, continue on the trail less than a half-mile to another crossing of Beech Creek.  We had to wade when we visited in high water.  After the crossing, continue to follow creek upstream.  Several unmarked tributaries flow into Beech Creek along the trail.  Bear Creek Falls is on one such tributary.  This waterfall only exists after periods of heavy rain.

Beech Creek Waterfall:

Continuing on the Beech Creek Trail past Bear Creek Falls, the trail will continue through the Beech Creek Gorge to an area where mining had been performed previously.  An old rock wall is just off the trail.  Right past the wall, the trail turns sharply to the left to begin a series of switchbacks.  Instead of going left, stay straight on a small path to this 15-foot waterfall on Beech Creek.

High Falls:

High Falls is the most scenic and largest waterfall in the area.  Continue on the main trail up the switchback after the rock wall.  In another half-mile or so, there will be another switchback to the left.  A path goes straight to High Falls and there was an wooden sign indicating the path.  It's about a quarter-mile to the base of the waterfall.

Big Laurel Falls:

Big Laurel Falls is relatively easy to access from the Standing Indian area of Nantahala National Forest.

Wildlife:

Wildflowers:

Southern Nantahala Wilderness is home to a tremendous number of wildflowers.  Here are some narrow-leaved sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) growing along Beech Creek.

Mushrooms:

Decaying plant material on the forest floor makes for a perfect growing environment for fungi.  Here are some mushrooms I found growing on a log.

Amphibians:

The many creeks in the wilderness lead to moist conditions ideal for amphibians.  The ref eft, or juvenile stage, of Eastern Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) are easy to spot with their bright orange color.

Invertebrates:

Invertebrates like spiders, insects, and snails are common in the forest, but you may have to look a little closer to spot them.  Here's a snail I saw near the headwaters of Beech Creek.

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