Mountain Waters Scenic Byway - North Carolina Scenic Drives
The Byway is a 61.3-mile drive that winds through southern Appalachian hardwood forest, two river gorges, and rural countryside. Traveling from Highlands to Almond, the byway follows U.S. 64, old U.S. 64, SR 1310 (Wayah Road), and U.S. 19. Part of this nationally-recognized byway coincides with two State scenic routes. Much of the byway travels through the Nantahala National Forest. National forest ecosystems are managed for many uses: recreation, timber, wildlife, water, wilderness, and more. At overlooks and side routes, you may see signs of forest management activities. Here is a sample of attractions along the route:
The first 7.5 miles of the byway travels through the beautiful Cullasaja Gorge. The winding road parallels the Cullasaja River and offers spectacular scenic views of the river and its waterfalls.
The road allows you to drive behind a thin "veil" of water falling from 120 feet. 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 picnicking, swimming, fishing and hiking. You can camp nearby at Van Hook Glade.
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.
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 1930s, 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.
Located about 6 miles west of Wayah Gap, this lake has 29 miles of shoreline and offers fishing and boating. Boat ramps are available.
The Nantahala River offers 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 river draws more than 250,000 boaters who enjoy whitewater rafting, canoeing, and kayaking. Many people begin their trip from the Nantahala River Launch Site at the beginning of the 8.5-mile whitewater run, where changing rooms and flush toilets are available. About 2.75 miles downriver is the Ferebee Memo 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.
Van Hook Glade Campground is open May to October with 20 family campsites. This campground is off U.S. 64 in Cullasaja Gorge, 4.3 miles west of Highlands. Appletree Group Campground is 2.5 miles off SR 1310 on SR 1401. The campground is open April to October for groups of 10 of more, by reservation only. For reservations, call the Wayah Ranger District at 704-524-6441. Standing Indian Campground is 12 miles west of Franklin off U.S. 64. To reach the campground, which offers 84 campsites, follow U.S. 64 west, turn left on old U.S. 64, and follow the signs.
Explore On Foot
To experience the true richness of the forest along the byway, here is a sample of trails:
Rufus Morgan Trail
This 1-mile loop trail winds through mature hardwood forest to a waterfall. From SR 1310 (6.6 miles west of U.S. 64) turn left on FR 388 (Boardtree Road) and drive 2.2 miles to the trailhead.
Cliffside Lake Trails
Stretch your legs on a short trail just off the Cullasaja Gorge. Choose the easy .75-mile loop that circles the lake or enjoy the view from the ridge along the Moderate 1.5-mile Clifftop Vista Trail.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication