Very close to the Georgia, North Carolina Border starts the Natahala National Forest and some amazing backpacking opportunities. Of course, the Appalachian Trail runs right through this section of North Georgia and North Carolina. Not far from Franklin NC the Appalachian Trail crosses Hwy 64. Right at this crossing there is a road that goes into Standing Indian Campground. This is where you can do a spectacular Loop Hike accessing a few spur trails up and down off the Appalachian Trail. This section of the AT is the ONLY section, where the AT goes NORTH and SOUTH in one section. This will be your Loop Hike.
Scenic starting trip for backpackers and a great introduction to the Appalachian Trail. Views, lots of river time, and scenic campgrounds.
We have done this loop many times. One time in the summer where it rained all weekend. It was awesome! This loop mostly follows the AT, but uses Long Branch Trail #86 and Lower Trail Ridge #28 to start/finish the loop at Standing Indian Campground. This campground closes in the late fall, but there is public primitive (field) camping 2.0 miles south, past Standing Indian Campground. Several shelters are along this route, as well as multiple water crossings.
Trailhead starts at Standing Indian Campground.
This loop travels around the southern portion of the Nanatahala National Forest, tracing the basin from which the same-named river originates. The trail is a popular one with backpackers, as it can be tailored to fit different lengths depending on the trail used to connect to the AT, and there are several 5,000+ foot peaks that give tremendous views into the surrounding countryside.
We began the loop on the Long Branch Trail from the Standing Indian Backcountry information station. The trail winds up for about 1.75 miles before connecting to the AT. Turning up, you pass along rhododendron tunnels and deciduous forests until reaching Albert Mountain, about 5.5 miles from the trailhead. This can be a good place to camp for the night, but you need to go farther if you plan to complete this as an overnighter.
FYI, water on Albert Mountain is scarce so prepare accordingly. Atop Albert Mountain is a fire tower with 360 degree views. The southern side of Albert is much steeper and the trail continues on to Betty Creek Gap. There are several pleasant camping sites there, and the creek should provide a reliable water. This looked to be a fine camping spot at about 7.7 miles from the trailhead (clockwise), however, we continued on and camped at New Carter Gap Shelter. At this stop, there are camp sites, fire pits, a shelter, and water source.
Day 2 consisted of pushing shortly to Standing Indian, but much of this section is along ridges or keeping flat along the same elevation, so it didn’t seem as much. Water was plentiful at the shelters or even a couple creek crossings, so don’t worry about your water levels. The route is pleasant, and this is probably the quietest portion of the trail (as it is farthest from other access points).
The final section to Standing Indian isn’t very steep either, which helps make this direction a better option, in my opinion. Camping on Standing Indian, there are a few spots right at the top with beautiful views across the mountains to the south. Probably some of the best views around. Follow the blaze up the mountain pass the campsites. As noted elsewhere, these tend to fill up quickly; We arrived around noon, and half of these were already taken. At the least, it is a fantastic place to relax and have lunch. Ideally, you could find a camp spot and get great sunsets over the Blue Ridges.
To wrap up the loop, we chose to descend the Lower Ridge Trail (about 4.0 miles) which is marked with Blue Blazes, rather than Kimsey Creek Trail. The Lower Ridge Trail begins at the Standing Indian overlook trail junction. This trail ends at the campground, and its simple to follow the pavement back to the Backcountry Information Station.