10 Ways to Keep Your Cool: Summer in North Carolina's Mountains
Wet wading lets anglers beat the Carolina heat while enjoying the state's world-class fishing. Peel yourself out of those chest waders or hip boots and bare your legs to the brisk mountain water; a pair of felt-bottomed wading boots or sandals (add neoprene socks for insulation) will keep you right side up in the river.
A feeder stream for Fontana Lake—an angling hotspot in its own right—Hazel Creek is known as the fly-fishing crown jewel of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Heralded in sporting magazines for years, this stream won't disappoint. Just about any angling experience you can find in the Smokies can be enjoyed on this stream. Anglers can take a shuttle from Fontana Marina to reach the mouth of Hazel Creek, where the water rushes past old homesteads and fragrant orchards, forming many long, slow pools. Or, if you're up for a long hike, you can reach the headwaters on foot from Clingmans Dome. Either way, big browns and rainbows, along with brook trout in the headwaters, await intrepid fishermen. One of the secrets of Hazel Creek's excellent fishing is the abundant insect life. While caddis flies dominate, come summer you'll want to match your flies to the Stenonema mayfly hatches. Consider camping overnight at one of the many creekside backcountry campsites.
Contact information: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, (865) 436-1200, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Transylvania County, you'll find South Mills River, which has been listed on Trout Unlimited's Top 100. With a healthy population of wild browns and rainbows, South Mills offers some of the better fishing in North Carolina, including abundant hatches throughout the summer months. This wild river tumbles down the mountainside from the Pink Beds region on its way to meet up with its smaller cousin, the North Mills River, miles downstream. It's a remote stretch of mostly pristine backcountry that lies within a Pisgah National Forest black bear sanctuary—they're seldom seen, but always nearby. For easiest river access, head for NC 280 between Brevard and Mills River, or take U.S. 276 north from Brevard to a small dirt road just past the Pink Beds picnic area.
Contact information: Pisgah Ranger Station, (704) 877-3265
Chill-seekers will enjoy a breathtaking dip in the nippy waters of the South Toe River, which flows directly off Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. For a small fee, you can access the river from the Carolina Hemlock Recreation Area in Pisgah National Forest, just south of Burnsville. The deepest spot in the swimming area drops 14 feet, and the water's clear enough to see right to the bottom. The fast-moving South Toe also offers tubers (B.Y.O.T.) some nice rapids and drops, although summertime dry spells may necessitate a bit of portaging.
Contact information: Appalachian/Toecane Ranger District Office, (828) 682-6146
Take the plunge into another refreshing National Forest pool just outside of Highlands, NC, in the Cullasaja River Gorge. Located in Nantahala National Forest, the multi-tiered, 20-foot Quarry Falls (a.k.a. Upper Cullasaja Falls) cascades into a deep swimming hole, and the ledges in the cliff beside the pool let you cool off with a hop, skip, or a jump. When you're ready to dry off, spread your picnic lunch on the flat, sun-baked slabs beside the falls. From Highlands, take U.S. 64 west toward Franklin; you'll reach a paved pullout near the falls in about six and a half miles.
Contact information: Highlands Ranger District, (828) 526-3765
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication