Standing Indian Mountain
Standing Indian is a pleasant five mile (round trip) hike along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina’s Southern Nantahala Wilderness. There is plenty of camping and a beautiful viewpoint at the summit.
When we visited the Smokies this year, we decided to spend the entire trip – an unfortunately short four days – on the southern side of the park. On our last few trips to the area, we enjoyed exploring the Appalachian Trail corridor just before it enters GSMNP. We thought Wesser Bald and Siler Bald were both fun hikes with spectacular views, so before we traveled, I spent some time perusing my AWOL Guide to see if there were other nice view hikes close to easily accessible road crossings. One of the hikes I came up with was Standing Indian Mountain.
By the miles, the drive to the trailhead was pretty short, but the last six miles to get to Deep Gap were along a narrow, steep, and winding forest/logging road. It took about 25 minutes to reach the road’s dead-end at Deep Gap Primitive Campground. There were some really nice campsites available, but the largest and flattest of the sites was closed for reforestation/restoration. Quite a few of the overused backcountry tent sites in this area have been closed to allow them to return to their natural state.
We picked up the northbound Appalachian Trail at the end of the road. It was sunny and humid when we started hiking. The trail climbed steadily and gently the whole way on this hike. Just under a half mile into the hike, we passed a piped spring coming out of the mountainside. We passed a couple more closed campsites before arriving at the spur trail to Standing Indian Shelter at 1.1 miles. The shelter is barely a tenth of a mile off the trail. It had room for about eight people and was equipped with benches and a large fire pit. There were lots of flat, grassy tent sites behind the shelter. Supposedly there is a stream/water source 70 yards downhill of the shelter, but we didn’t take the time to explore. We signed the shelter log and continued our hike up the mountain.
Shortly after the shelter, sun gave way to fog. We figured it was just leftover moisture from storms the night before or a passing cloud. At 5,499′, Standing Indian is the tallest peak along the Nantahala River and often gets different weather than the valley below. We hiked on and the fog gave way to occasional raindrops. We assured one another it was just a passing shower and pressed on. By the time we reached a tunnel of rhododendron, the light shower had become a downpour. Adam wanted to put on our rain gear and stay sheltered under the canopy of rhododendron, but I was getting cold and wanted to push on. In the end, we decided to wait a little bit; hoping the storm would pass and allow us to enjoy the view that was to be the main point of the hike.
After about 20 minutes, the rain still hadn’t slowed so I suggested we hike back to the shelter and wait a bit there. On our way down, the rain stopped, so we turned around and climbed back up. It started pouring again almost immediately after we turned around, so we admitted defeat and decided to just roll with whatever nature threw our way.
So, we hiked to the summit of Standing Indian in a deluge! The summit was completely socked it, but after waiting about ten minutes the fog moved enough to give us a cloudy, misty view of the mountains beyond. We enjoyed every second of the three minute vista before the fog fell back around. The hike back was really quick – all downhill over easy terrain. And wouldn’t you know it… the sun came back out as soon as we got to the parking lot!
As Christine mentioned, this may not have been the best day for this hike. The weather forecast predicted some late afternoon storms, so we really thought we could get in a hike before things turned for the worse. It was quite humid from the recent rain. After we left the shelter, we noticed the clouds were getting thicker, but we pressed on hoping we could beat any rain. We made it to a large rhododendron tunnel and what started off as sprinkling rain quickly became a downpour. The rain was unrelenting. We talked about going to the top, but with all the rain, we didn’t think we would see anything, so we decided to turn around before reaching the summit.
As we made our way down, we came across a Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. She looked college-aged and was carrying a pack that looked like it weighed 60 pounds. The rain had soaked a bandana she was wearing as headband and the dye from the fabric was bleeding blue streaks all down her face.
The trail heading back was more like walking through a small stream in some spots as the heavy rain looked for a place to escape the steep slope of the mountain. The rocks on the trail were slippery from the rain. After making it back about halfway to the shelter, the rain slowed considerably so we changed our mind and decided to give the summit another go.
At 2.45 miles, the trail comes to a junction with the Lower Ridge trail. You will see a sign for Standing Indian Mountain. Take a right off the Appalachian Trail to follow a path through a campsite area which leads to the summit of Standing Indian Mountain in just a tenth of a mile. There was a large fire pit at the top and a small nook to catch a view of the mountains around you. When we arrived, we were able to catch a quick view before the fog and clouds enveloped everything in a sea of gray. We were at least thankful to be up there to appreciate the view for a few minutes.
The name “Standing Indian Mountain” comes from Cherokee myth. An Indian warrior had been sent to the summit to watch for a winged monster that came from the sky and stole children. The monster was captured and destroyed with thunder and lightning from the Great Spirit. The Cherokee warrior had become afraid and ran away from his post and was turned into stone for his cowardice. The Cherokee referred to Standing Indian Mountain as “Yunwitsule-nunyi”, meaning “where the man stood”.
The rain continued for most of the hike down. But one treat the rain provided was the chance to see several salamanders hanging out on the trail. We first spotted a Blue Ridge two-lined salamander, but the real treat was seeing a black-chinned red salamander. The Great Smoky Mountains are known as the “Salamander Capital of the World”, so we were glad to catch a few species on this hike. We have yet to spot a hellbender salamander (which range from 12-29 inches long) in the wild there, but maybe one day we will.
After we made it back to the car, we decided to drive over to Franklin, NC for the afternoon. We stopped in a wonderful outfitter store called Outdoor 76. When we had stopped to take pictures of the salamanders, I realized my backpack was completely soaked inside which ruined our copy of our AWOL guide. So we purchased those as well as a couple of Pelican cases for our phones. They even have several beers on tap at the back of the store. It wasn’t until later that I thought about how my daypack has a built-in rain cover – ugh. We then went to grab some lunch at Motor Company Grill (just an average 50s-style burger and sandwich place) and then went to the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company. Since a lot of AT thru-hikers will spend a day off the trail to eat and resupply in Franklin, this place is a popular spot. They had great trail and hiking information posted inside and had some of the coolest hiking-related pint glasses I have seen. It is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.
- Distance – 5 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 1300 ft.
- Difficulty – 2.5. The climbing on this trail is all very gradual and well-graded. We were surprised it even came out to 1300 feet!
- Trail Conditions – 4. The local chapter of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is working hard on restoration projects in this area and their work was definitely evident.
- Views – 4. We are giving this the score it deserves on a nice day with good visibility. We still had a pretty view, but it could have been much nicer if the rain had held off.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 1. There were a couple small springs (at least one was piped) that could be used as a water source.
- Wildlife – 3. We saw a couple unique salamanders along the trail in the rain. They were both species we hadn’t seen before.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. The trail is well blazed. The view at the top is hidden behind a spur trail through a bunch of campsites. If you don’t know to cut through the campsites, you would miss the view completely.
- Solitude – 3. There were a ton of cars parked at Deep Gap, but we only saw a handful of people on the trail – probably because it was *pouring*!
Directions to trailhead: GPS coordinates for this trailhead are 35.039847, -83.552506. From Highway 74 in North Carolina (near Cherokee/Bryson City) take the US23 S/US 441 S exit for Dillsboro/Franklin/Atlanta. Follow this road for 20.4 miles to the junction with US64 W. Follow 64W for 14.5 miles. Take a left on Deep Gap Road. It will become a gravel forest service road almost immediately. Follow the forest road for almost 6 miles until you reach Deep Gap. Follow the Appalachian Trail north from this point.