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Joyce Kilmer Old Growth Loop

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail is quite possibly the best short hike in North Carolina. It is considered by many as a jewel in the crown of the Nantahala National Forest. It is an easy 2 mile figure 8 loop that travels through one of the few remaining tracts of virgin hardwood forests in the Appalachians. 3800 acres of this primeval forest were dedicated as a living memorial to Joyce Kilmer the poet. He died in World War One and was best known for his poem "Trees".

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      Slickrock Creek

As you leave the parking lot there is a feeling of anticipation in the air. Hikers returning from the forest are excited and talking about their experience. WHEW!! is on of the most often heard expressions. The trail starts out behind the welcome building. Take the trail to the left and cross into another world. As the trail climbs through the damp forest someone can be overheard saying "These trees ain't that big".  Then as the trail starts to level off a few big trees can be seen. A little further down the trail even bigger trees come into view. Before long you are in a forest of amazingly large trees.

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The trail is a figure 8 loop that has a memorial to Joyce Kilmer in the center. There are benches here and is a heavily used rest area. After leaving the memorial the trail enters the upper loop, the location of some of the largest Poplar trees in this country.

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               Memorial to Joyce Kilmer in the center of the loop.

Many of these trees are over 100 feet tall and over 400 years old. Walking through these trees can make one feel small.

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The "kids" at the most photographed trees in the loop.

It's hard to imagine a countryside of 200 years ago before the timber barons brought their axes to the mountains.Trees of this stature were the rule and not the exception. When the Forest Service purchased the Slickrock Watershed in 1936 much of the land was laid to waste by poor logging practices. Timber management and time has restored the land.     

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As the trail winds through this sliver of virgin hardwood the excitement builds. Soon most of the people in our group would just stop and stare. The oo's and ahs were getting fewer and the crowd was just awestruck. Some would trip frequently while staring at the tree tops while hiking. "What kind of tree is that ?" someone asks. Hard to tell, the leaves are so high you can't see them and the bark looks different when it's that old! People that hardly ever notice trees are turned into instant conservationists! "We should save more trees!" declares one. "Yeah, we should write to congress!" says another.

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                                            Tree-huggers!

 

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                    Another giant Tulip Poplar

Soon we pass a trail on the left. Naked Ground trail branches off of the loop and begins a 2700 foot climb to Naked Ground in the heart of Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness. Shortly after passing the trail the loop ends. Now we were a group of exhilarated people exiting the forest and using expressions like....... WHEW!!!

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         The excited group as they are leaving the enchanted forest.

 

GETTIN' THERE

From Robbinsville, NC take Rt. 143 North towards the Cherohala Skyway. Aprox 5 - 6 miles past Robbinsville turn right at the sign for state road 1127 just before the Skyway. There is a large green sign pointing the way.  The parking lot at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail is closed after dark.

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