Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Beech Creek Loop in the Southern Nantahala

A high-elevation escape for an overnighter during the heat of summer.  The Southern Nantahala Wilderness straddles the Georgia-North Carolina border and features heath balds and rugged mountain streams and waterfalls. 
Lush wildflowers bursting with the oranges and reds of summer.
The first day, Still Waters joined me for the Beech Creek Loop and even gave me a shuttle so I could do a long day on Sunday.  The joy of hiking with someone who appreciates narrow trail through towering berry brambles and doesn't seem to mind relentless climbs and a few scrambles.
Still Waters looking out into wilderness from the top of Big Scaly Mountain.
Beech Creek Loop circles 5,060 foot Big Scaly Mountain, a peak that rises up out of the Tallulah Basin in the shadow of Standing Indian Mountain (not to be confused with Scaly Mountain in North Carolina on the Bartram Trail).  Homan describes a 8.2 mile loop, though elsewhere it's listed as 12-miles.  Regardless, with about 2,500 foot total ascent and numerous side trails, we took all day to explore this diverse area.
A side trail led to spectacular High Falls.
Crossing Beech Creek.
When I'd hiked part of the Beech Creek Loop solo back in May,  I skipped the side trail to Chimney Rock, so as not to be tempted to try the rock-scramble to the top of this tall rock monolith alone.  My fear was for the descent, and it turned out I was right to be cautious.  When I felt stuck and scared halfway down, Still Waters provided guidance about where find toe holds.
The scary/fun climb up Chimney Rock.
When my feet intercepted ground, I wonder if attempting such a climb with a friend around was a bad choice because it put her more at risk if something had happend.  Or if it was good because I gained confidence and skills for future scrambles.  Still Waters said she wouldn't attempt it with me there, but would if she were solo.  Funny how we each do the math differently.
I made it!
After Still Waters headed home, I set off to explore the Wateroak Falls trail.  I've been making my way through all the trails described in Tim Homan's Hiking Trails of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River, and this was the last trail I had to complete to finish all the trails in the book.  This trail is unmaintained by the forest service and not even on the old FS map, so I was glad for excellent trail description.  Blue blazes along this faint trail were sparse and the tangle of rhododendron and downed logs were thick, so routefinding was a challenge in the fading evening light. 
Finding impressive Wateroak Falls was a satisfying reward for 20 minutes bushwacking.
The next morning, I climbed the 2 miles and 1500 feet up the Deep Gap Trail to Deep Gap, where I turned south onto the Appalachian Trail.  With easy footing and wide trail, I kicked into autopilot for the 15 miles back to my car at Dicks Creek Gap.  When the trail dropped below 3000 feet and into oppressive heat and humidity,  I understood why the AT was so desserted.  And I was even more thankful for the cool breezes I'd found up in the Nantahala.
Camping behind the rhododendrons near the junction of the Deep Gap Trail and Wateroak Falls Trail.

For more information:

Tim Homan's Hiking Trails of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River- an excellent guidebook.

Trails Illustrated #778- FS roads to get to the trailheads.

US Forest Service Map: "Southern Nantahala Wilderness and Standing Indian Basin"- this shows old roads and unmaintained trails, with better detail than the Trails Illustrated map.

Sherpa Guide's Trail Description.


  1. That looked like some slippery rock climbing.

  2. The rocks weren't as slippery with bare feet. I was glad it wasn't raining though.

  3. Hi Joan,
    Bill here. We meet on a Sierra Club hike at Brasstown Bald a few years ago on a cold, windy and eventually snowy day.

    I just returned from the Deep Creek area. I had found Wateroak Falls a few years ago after leaf-off with the aid of a few pieces of marker tape on trees and Homan's directions. But this time, with leaves still on, the falls eluded me. The Tallulah was low any way, so the falls were likely a trickle. However, I wonder if you took a GPS location bearing - I can bushwhack if I know where I'm going!

    Interestingly, I did find a number of hog wallows in the mud of the seeps along Wateroak Creek.

    I must add that the Deep Creek area has changed noticeably with the loss of all the large hemlocks in that area, which of course is true of North Carolina and northeast Georgia. Save Georgia Hemlocks is treating stands of the trees in various locations, so they will thrive again many decades from now.

  4. Hi Bill! Great to hear from you and hope you're doing well!

    I'm sorry to say I didn't take a GPS reading at Wateroak Falls-- that really would have been a good idea-- not sure I'd find it again. That sure was a tough one to locate, and bummer you didn't find it. But hope you had an otherwise fun trip to Deep Creek- bet the leaves were nice up there.

    Those hogs sure seem to be an increasing problem. Sad what they do to the wildflowers.

    Interesting to notice the changes in the hemlocks-- I've seen them treating the huge hemlocks at Three Forks, but so many areas have already been lost.