Regional Directions for Navigating the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Combined Wildernesses

By Tim Homan

I have employed a three-tiered directional system for navigating in the combined Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek wildernesses. First, directions from the three main jumping-off points to the three most important intersections near the trailheads – as well as directions from each intersection to the others – are provided here. Next, directions from the three intersections to the trailheads, or to other prominent intersections closer to the trailheads, are given at the beginning of the trailhead sections. Finally, you will find at the end of each trail description the directions or references that direct hikers to the exact trailhead or – if there is more than one path at a trailhead – to the specific trail.

Click on the small box in the upper right-hand corner to access the original map with locations of all map points and the ability to enlarge the map and move around freely.
This three-tiered approach allows hikers, depending upon their level of familiarity with the area, to start the directions where they want, to wade through only what is necessary. It also eliminates having to read the same long directions over and over again. Some repetition and some overlap between the tiers are inevitable, but hopefully, hikers planning a trip will find the detailed directions more helpful than tedious.

There are three primary jumping-off points surrounding the combined wilderness: Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to the southwest; Robbinsville, North Carolina, to the southeast; and the US 129 bridge over Calderwood Lake to the northeast in North Carolina. It is also possible to reach the Citico Creek Wilderness from the northwest following a succession of state, county, and Forest Service roads. Traveling from this direction, however, requires a long, occasionally rough, dirt-road drive. Because very few hikers approach the wilderness from this direction and because TN 165 is such a good, easily described route from the west, no directions have been provided from the northwest.

Two of the three most important intersections close to the combined wilderness – the NC 143-FS 81 (Forest Service road) – Joyce Kilmer Road junction and the four-way intersection at the entrance of FS 416 – are near Robbinsville and the bridge over Calderwood Lake. The other, the TN 165-FS 345 junction, is near Tellico Plains.

Approach from the southwest. To reach the TN 165-FS 345 junction, follow TN 165 East (Cherohala Skyway) slightly more than 13.0 miles from its intersection with TN 360 North on the east side of Tellico Plains. The prominently signed, paved approach road to the popular Indian Boundary Recreation Area is FS 345. A left turn (northeast) onto FS 345 leads to all the trailheads in both the Citico Creek and Doublecamp Creek Trailheads sections. Continue straight ahead on TN 165 East to reach all the trailheads in the Sassafras Ridge Trailheads section.

If you continue straight ahead from the Indian Boundary junction on TN 165 East, then NC 143 East, you will come to the NC 143- FS 81-Joyce Kilmer Road intersection at Santeetlah Gap after a little more than 27.0 miles. This junction, which has signs for Joyce Kilmer Road and Cherohala Skyway, Robbinsville and Tellico Plains, has an information kiosk at a paved, pull-off parking area to the left of 143. The paved entrance to FS 81 is downhill from the back of the kiosk.

To continue the tour of important intersections, turn left onto Joyce Kilmer Road and proceed downhill to the northwest approximately 2.2 miles to the four-way intersection at the entrance of the Joyce Kilmer approach road, FS 416.

Approach from the southeast. The second major jumping-off point is Robbinsville, North Carolina. From the US 129-NC 143 intersection approximately 1.0 mile north of Robbinsville, turn left (assuming you are traveling US 129 North) with NC 143 West at the prominent Joyce Kilmer-Cherohala Skyway sign. Continue on NC 143 West for approximately 3.4 miles before turning right (another Joyce Kilmer-Cherohala Skyway sign) with NC 143 West at the T -intersection. After this turn, proceed straight ahead on NC 143 West slightly less than 7.0 miles to the NC 143-FS 81-Joyce Kilmer Road intersection at Santeetlah Gap. Follow NC 143 West as it curves sharply to the left in Santeetlah Gap, which is marked with signs for Joyce Kilmer Road and Cherohala Skyway, Robbinsville and Tellico Plains. There is a pull-off parking area with an information kiosk to the outside of the curve.

Continuing on NC 143 West (becomes TN 165 at the state line) from Santeetlah Gap, you will arrive at the TN 165-FS 345 junction after slightly more than 27.0 miles.

If you leave NC 143 at the gap and head downhill to the northwest on Joyce Kilmer Road, you will come to the four-way intersection at the entrance of the Joyce Kilmer approach road, FS 416, after approximately 2.2 miles. All the trailheads in the Joyce Kilmer Forest Trailheads section, except Wolf Laurel, are near this four-way intersection.

Approach from the northeast. The final jumping-off point – where US 129 crosses the bridge over Calderwood Lake (Little Tennessee River) on the Graham County line – is located just northeast of the wilderness. Travel US 129 South (pass the Slickrock Creek Trailhead at Calderwood Lake and pass the Big Fat Gap approach road, FS 62) approximately 7.3 miles beyond the bridge over Calderwood Lake, then turn right onto Joyce Kilmer Road at the prominent Horse Cove Campground-Joyce Kilmer sign. Remain on this paved road (Turn right with the road sign and cross the bridge at the first junction, then pass through Horse Cove Campground near the four-way intersection.) until you reach the four-way intersection after approximately 6.0 miles.

I refer to this route as the Horse Cove shortcut. It is the quickest way for southbound travelers on US 129 to reach the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This route also provides the quickest access from the Joyce Kilmer area to the Big Fat Gap and Slickrock Creek Trailheads and vice versa.

The Joyce Kilmer approach road, FS 416, is straight ahead through the intersection. Haoe Lead Trailhead is to the right, uphill, toward Maple Springs Observation Point. A left turn onto Joyce Kilmer Road leads uphill (past the Stratton Bald Trailhead) approximately 2.2 miles to the NC 143-FS 81-Joyce Kilmer Road intersection. A right turn on NC 143 West leads you onto and over the skyway, to the TN 165-FS 345 junction on the Tennessee side of the wilderness.

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