For my 60th birthday, I wanted to go someplace that was physically beautiful with mountains, lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails through old growth forests in autumn, and non-commercial in character. We discovered a gem in Graham County, south of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We spent seven nights at the Blue Boar Inn, in one of their cottages, which is roughly 10 miles west of Robbinsville. Here are some of the special places that we visited:
1. Kilmer Memorial Forest. There is a several mile loop trail through one of the largest old growth preserves in the eastern United States. We hiked this twice - it was magical on a rainy day and sparkling on another day when the sun fell on the autumn leaves in the dense forest. Be sure to drive to Maple Point Observation. There are several longer hiking trails in the forest, but we didn't have time!
2. The Cherolaha Skyway. We took a day to drive this skyway and enjoy the grand vistas of distant mountains, with frequent stop offs at look out points. Most of these parking areas also have trailheads. We enjoyed hiking from several of these. The Skyway spans both North Carolina and Tennessee. On the Tennessee side, at the start, there is a small restaurant by the stream that is worth a stop. Definitely worth the drive on the Tennessee side is the Forest Service Road 210 to Bald River Falls. This paved road is close by a stream and is just so beautiful. With the fall foliage it is indescribable! The waterfall is right by the road with convenient parking. You can turn around a little further down the road.
3. Lake Santeetlah. This is a totally uncommercial lake and if you take a look at it on a map you will see that it has many coves. The Blue Boar Inn is one mile off Rte 143 on a forest service road in the national forest. You drive on this dirt road with great views of the lake. As guests of the inn, we used their kayaks (they also have canoes) and explored the lake and its coves. Serene.
4. Twenty Mile Falls in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. One of the wonderful things about Graham County is that you can access the national park from the south, where much fewer people are. From this access point, there are several hikes some quite long. there is a 1 mile loupe trail. We loved this place so much because the path always had a stream beside it, sometimes with roaring cascades, and interesting terrain of boulders and trees. And hardly anyone was there! We chose one of the longer trails one day and just walked and walked and didn't see anyone else. On another day, we had a picnic beside the cascades near the entrance and just enjoyed the sun, sounds of the water and the falling leaves.
5. Country roads. Just great driving on country roads! In addition to the skyway, the road from Kilmer Memorial Forest, past Horse Cove, then onto 129 through Tapoco and then to Rt 28 to get to the Twenty mile falls was quite scenic and fun. We didn't drive the Tail of the Dragon, but we spoke to others who really enjoyed that.
It rained one day. We brought our rain gear and it was no problem. That was the day we walked in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Then we returned to our cottage and sat beside a warm fire!
We enjoyed this area so much that we would like to return when the rhododendrom are in bloom, which we understand is in early June. The mountains and hiking trails are supposed to be beautiful then!
This area is much less traveled than other areas in North Carolina and is a real gem - if you like to do the sorts of things that I mentioned above. Graham County is 2/3 national forest with elevations up to 5,600 feet.