Mountain Waters Scenic Byway
Beginning in Highlands, this approximately 61 miles of nationally-recognized byway winds through southern Appalachian hardwood forests, by numerous waterfalls and lakes and through two river gorges. Traveling from Highlands to Almond the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway follows U.S. 64, old U.S. 64, SR 1310 (Wayah Road), and U.S. 19. The last miles of this drive travels through the Nantahala National Forest ending at the Fontana Lake. If you enjoy a scenic drive where you can picnic along the way then this drive is for you. But for those of you who are daring this byway also offers boating, canoeing and rafting, biking, fishing, hiking, swimming, and numerous water sports. Bring your boat, canoe, or kayak and enjoy a fun-filled day on one of the lakes listed below or on the Nantahala River.
Areas of Interest Along Byway Include:
CULLASAJA GORGE: makes up the first 7.5 miles of this byway. Traveling through the beautiful Cullasaja Gorge, the winding road parallels the Cullasaja River and offers spectacular scenic views of the river and the waterfalls of Highlands on U.S. 64. A side road actually allows you to drive behind Bridal Veil Falls, where the thin “veil” of water falls from 120 feet.
DRY FALLS: You’ll find this 75-foot beauty 2.1 miles west of Highlands on U.S. 64. From the parking area, a short paved trail leads you directly behind the waterfall.
CLIFFSIDE LAKE & VAN HOOK GLADE: Cliffside Lake Recreation Area is 4.4 miles west of Highlands and then 1.5 miles off U.S. 64. This area offers camping, picnicking, swimming, fishing and hiking. Cliffside Lake Recreation Area (862 kb pdf)
WAYAH CREEK: West of Franklin, the byway turns right on old U.S. 64, then left on SR 1310. SR 1310 (Wayah Road) parallels much of the 6-mile stream. The creek is a good fishing stream, but most of the streamside is private land and is posted “no trespassing”. Along Wayah Creek is the Arrowood Glade Picnic Area. Wayah Crest Picnic Area is at Wayah Gap.
WAYAH BALD: A side trip to Wayah Bald is well worth the effort. From Wayah Gap, journey 1.3 miles up gravel Forest Road (FR) 69 and see the Wilson Lick Ranger Station. Built about 1913, Wilson Lick was the first ranger station in the Nantahala National Forest. Continue another 3.2 miles up FR 69 to Wayah Bald. Take the short, paved trail to the historic Wayah Bald Fire Tower. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, the tower provides a great view of the southern Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, Tennessee, and both Carolinas. You can picnic nearby at the Wayah Bald Picnic Area. Two long-distance trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail, cross the mountain at the tower.
NANTAHALA RIVER: This mountain river offers great trout fishing in its upper and lower reaches. The stretch of river above the powerhouse has excellent catch-and-release fishing from spring until early summer.
NANTAHALA RIVER GORGE: The Nantahala River draws more than 250,000 boaters who enjoy whitewater rafting, canoeing, and kayaking. Many businesses along the river offer both guided and unguided raft rentals. Most rafting trips begin from the Nantahala River Launch Site and float down the 8.5-mile whitewater run. About 2.75 miles downriver from this launch site is the Ferebee Memorial Picnic Area, which provides another launch and takeout area. At the lower end of the Nantahala River, a commercial-only takeout and a private boater area are provided. From a wooden walkway, spectators get a thrilling view of the wild ride over the final series of rapids, including Nantahala Falls. Nantahala River outfitters, under Forest Service permit, can help plan trips to fit your skill level and provide any equipment you might need.
FONTANA LAKE: This lake offers great Bass and Pike fishing with 11,685 acres of water surface and also provides recreational water activities such as boating, kneeboarding, swimming, and water skiing. Construction of the 480 foot high Fontana Dam, which was completed in 1944 and is the highest Dam east of the Rockies, backed water for 30 miles to make up what is now the Fontana Lake. Numerous boat ramps are available.