The United States Congress designated the Southern Nantahala Wilderness (map
) in 1984 and it now has a total of 23,365 acres
It is managed by the Forest Service.
The Cherokee Indians thought of the Blue Ridge Mountains as the Great Blue Hills of God. These original inhabitants named the shady forests and deep, dark gorges Nantahala, or Land of the Noonday Sun. Later settlers saw this same area as fodder for their mills. They removed virtually every piece of good timber that was at least 15 inches in diameter from the main drainages of the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, what is today Southern Nantahala Wilderness and shared by North Carolina and Georgia. The main line of that railway ran along the Nantahala River, and evidence of it still exists.
Steep, rugged, reforested country cut by numerous streams and old drainages characterizes the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The streams feed the Nantahala, Hiwassee, and Tallulah Rivers, and the wide non-Wilderness right-of-way along the Tallulah neatly divides the Georgia share of the wildland. The eastern section is the northern portion of Georgia's Coleman River Wildlife Management Area. In both sections spruce and fir cover the ridges (opened by grass-heath "balds") and mixed hardwoods grow on the slopes. Several unique bogs support endangered species such as the bog turtle and rare combinations of other species found nowhere else in the world.
Other than four miles of the Appalachian Trail, which runs north-south through the larger western section, you won't find developed pathways on the Georgia side. However, old roadbeds provide hiking access. Off these old roads and deep in the shade of the many trees, where the walking is difficult, you'll find Georgia at her most unspoiled. On the North Carolina side, almost all of the developed trails are steep and strenuous, with a rough tread that is sometimes a challenge to find. But few places in the southern United States offer such outstanding backpacking opportunities. Many people wander into the area from the popular adjacent Standing Indian Basin. Thirty-two miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) pass through the Southern Nantahala, following the ridge crest of the Nantahala Range. In addition to the AT, the most used trails are the Lower Ridge Trail (4.1 miles), Big Indian Loop (8 miles), and Beech Gap (2.8 miles).