Nantahala National Forest
Nantahala is an Indian name meaning “Land of the Noonday Sun.” This name is most appropriate as the sun only reaches the floor of the deep gorges and valleys when directly overhead at midday. The Spanish Conquistador, Hernando DeSoto, explored the area in 1540 and in 1920 the Forest was established. It is the largest of the four national forests in North Carolina lying in the mountains and valleys of western North Carolina with elevations as high as 5,800 feet at Lone Bald in Jackson County, to a low 1,200 feet in Cherokee County along the Tusquitee River and is the home of many western NC waterfalls. The last part of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway travels through this forest.
Nantahala National Forest is divided into four Ranger Districts, the Highlands Ranger District, the Tusquitee Ranger District, the Cheoah Ranger District, host of the Appalachian Trail which continues on through the Wayah Ranger District. The Highlands Ranger District covers an area of nearly 105,000 acres in Macon, Jackson and Transylvania counties. This district contains the 39,000-acre Roy Taylor Forest located in Jackson County, southwest of and adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The rugged and scenic Tuckasegee Gorge is within the Roy Taylor Forest. The 158,579 acre Tusquitee Ranger District ranges in elevation from 1,200 feet to the 5,499-feet Standing Indian Mountain. The Cheoah Ranger District has 120,000 acres in Graham and Swain Counties. These lands adjoin four large mountain reservoirs and contain numerous streams. The Wayah Ranger District, named after the Cherokee Indian word meaning “wolf,” contains 134,000 acres adjacent to the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
Three Wilderness areas are located within the Nantahala National Forest. Ellicott Rock Wilderness is located at the intersection of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, with 3,900 acres in the North Carolina portion. Southern Nantahala Wilderness includes 10,900 acres and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock another 13,100 acres in North Carolina. Wilderness areas provide an opportunity for solitude in a rugged, natural setting.