We ate Thanksgiving dinner early at Tapoco Lodge and over dessert I was able to convince almost everyone to go, probably since it was on the way home. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is only 13.5 miles from Tapoco and is a huge old growth tract of forest with trees dating over 400 years old:
Joyce Kilmer was killed in action during World War I and this 3,800-acre tract of uncut old growth forest was dedicated to his memory in 1936.
What’s amazing about this place is that these trees have survived. The giant American chestnut trees were wiped out in the 1920s by a fungus and the wooly adelgid has preyed on the enormous “redwoods of the east” Hemlock trees since around the same time. Now only the tulip poplars remain as the largest trees in this area, some reaching as high as 100 feet:
And some of the trees are almost 20 feet in circumference:
It’s a beautiful 2-mile hike that starts out next to the Little Santeetlah Creek:
It’s not a difficult hike and it meanders through the rhododendron and fern lined trail:
About halfway up the first loop the big trees start to appear:
The trail is a figure eight and where the two loops meet there is a memorial plaque to Kilmer. The bottom loop is 1.25 miles.
One of Joyce Kilmer’s most well known poems is Trees:
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
The upper loop trail (.75 miles) is wide open during the winter and you can see everything around:
The forest feels a bit mysterious maybe because of how untouched it is:
It feels a bit like Narnia too:
We stopped for a while to try and climb:
Brett made it up the highest:
At over 400 years old some of these trees have lived to witness the Trail of Tears, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War….and so much more:
I take in so much when I hike I’m usually left behind. As everyone else hiked ahead I took photos of so many textures and flora and fauna. Here’s what 400 year old tree bark looks like:
I found this beautiful pile of feathers…the circle of life involving what I think was a female cardinal and maybe a hawk:
Some kind of wood munching insect left these marks:
Trailing moss on a log:
And sometimes I find things that look like other things…this log reminded me of a sperm whale:
There’s plenty of water on the trail….little streams to cross:
Tiny reflection pools:
Bridges to cross:
As the sun set and the shadows grew longer and longer I made sure to stay on the trial because apparently more hikers have gotten lost in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness than in any other place in North Carolina. My mom had started out the hike with us and then decided not to do the second loop so she headed down by herself. When we were finishing up the last loop we found her hat in the middle of the trail so you can only imagine what went through my mind. I listen to way too many Dateline podcasts. (She was fine…just accidentally dropped her hat.)
At the very end of the hike there are still scars from the 2017 Nantahala wildfire, one of the largest ever in Western NC:
It was a beautiful day! Here’s a pic of the four of us before the hike at Tapoco Lodge:
Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and weekend. So much to be thankful for!
Here is the location of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest on Google Maps:
I also have a bunch of my favorite places to visit and hike in Western NC at this link if you are interested!