6.6 miles – Nantahala Gorge to Cheoah Bald
In Section 7 the North Carolina Bartram Trail climbs from the Nantahala River Gorge to the summit of Cheoah Bald, known by hikers as the “grandstand of the Atlantic” because of its beautiful views. This is the trail’s northern terminus, and the trail gains 3000’ in 5 miles to reach it. Before leaving the gorge, the trail follows the Mountains–to-Sea Bike Trail on the eastern bank of the Nantahala River from Beechertown to Winding Stairs Road (FR422) and Winding Stairs Bridge. Crossing over the river and over US19/74, the trail re-enters the forest, turns southwest, crosses Ledbetter Creek, then switchbacks steeply up the western rim of the gorge. Once on the rim, the trail turns north and meets Ledbetter Creek a second time, which it then follows to its headwaters at Bellcollar Gap and Cheoah Bald. Beyond Bellcollar Gap the Bartram Trail meets the Appalachian Trail on the main ridge of the Cheoah Mts. and runs with it the final two tenths of a mile to Cheoah Bald. (Note: There is no road access at Cheoah Bald. From Cheoah Bald, hikers can backtrack or they can follow the AT east to the Nantahala River at Wesser or west to Stecoah Gap, approximately 5 miles either way. This makes a total hike of around 12 miles from Beechertown.)
Winding Stairs Trailhead to Bartram Falls and return
NCBT Map Section: 7
Difficulty: Moderate climb
ApproximateTime: 4 hours ~
Round Trip Mileage: 6 miles
Features: Bartram Falls is roughly 50’ in height; lots of rhododendron; lush growth in spring and summer along the cascades of Ledbetter Creek
Directions to Trailhead
Nantahala River Gorge (Beechertown): From Wesser: drive south 8 miles on US 19/74 to SR1310 (Wayah Road), on the left. Turn left to park in the River Launch parking lot (locally called the put-in), immediately on the left. Workhike groups should utilize the “Overflow Parking Area” on the opposite side of US 19/74 where the parking is free of charge.
From Franklin: From the US441/US64 junction south of Franklin, drive west on US64 for 3.5 miles to Old Murphy Rd. (SR1442), on the right, and a sign to Wayah Bald. Turn right on Old Murphy Rd. and drive 0.2 miles to Wayah Rd. (SR1310), on the left. There is a service station at this intersection. Follow Wayah Rd 27 miles to the end to intersect with US 19/74. The raft Put-in parking area is on the right.
Winding Stairs Bridge Trailhead: From Wesser: drive south 6.5 miles on US19/74 to FR422, on the left. Turn left and park immediately on the right in a gravel parking area at the trailhead bulletin board. From Franklin: Follow directions via Wayah Road (SR1310) 27 miles to Raft put in area. Turn right onto US 19/74 and travel approx. 1.5 miles. Turn right onto FR422 and trail parking area is on the immediate right at the trailhead bulletin board.