For all lovers of nature that come to Graham County, there is one special place that you do not want to miss; the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This unique and beautiful wilderness area was recognized as one of the very few remaining tracts of virgin hardwood in the Appalachians in 1936. At that time 3,800 acres were dedicated as a living memorial to Alfred Joyce Kilmer, a poet and soldier killed in World War I and who is best known for his poem “Trees”.
A two mile unpaved loop trail, in the shape of a figure eight, leads you through a diverse forest of huge trees, some over 500 years old. Especially during the spring, the many species of wildflowers along the path are spectacular. There are areas carpeted with white-flowered trillium. Above the flowers are occasional white butterflies, appearing as if some of the blossoms have taken flight. The forest is cool, shaded, moss-covered and exquisite year round. It shimmers with light. The atmosphere of peace and tranquility will surround and entrance you. If you are a “tree hugger” there are ample trees available on the upper loop not only for you to hug but ones large enough to link hands with your friends or family and encircle.
Bring your camera and you will find numerous opportunities to capture the glory of this wonderful place. A sparkling mountain stream filled with trout tumbles down through the forest and a picnic lunch after the hike is a perfect idea. Be sure and wear good hiking shoes and bring a walking stick as the trail is neither flat nor smooth. It is a wilderness trail and once you take your first step into this magical place you will experience what the forest must have looked like when the first European settlers passed through.
Whether you visit the forest during early June, when the synchronous and Blue Ghost fireflies are putting on their annual show, during the autumn color season, or after a fresh-fallen snow, “show your children that not all enchanted forests exist in fairy tales”.
From Robbinsville NC, 14 miles, 25 minutes travel time:
- North on US-129 N/Tapoco Rd
Turn left onto NC-143 W for 3.4 mi
Turn right to stay on NC-143 W for 6.9 mi
Stay right onto Santeetlah Rd for 2.3 mi
Turn left onto Joyce Kilmer Rd for .6 miles to trail head
From Tellico Plains TN, 44 miles, 1 hour travel time:
- Head southeast on Cherohala Skyway for 41 miles
- Turn left on Santeetlah Rd for 2.3 mi
- Turn left onto Joyce Kilmer Rd, for .6 miles to trail head