Taken from the observation deck
Once again, it’s time for the autumn leaves to delight us with their beautiful colors and fragrance. Come to Graham County for some spectacular leaf color display. A little-known location for viewing the changing colors, as well as watching both the sun set and the moon rise, is called Maple Springs Overlook.
Maple Springs Overlook, at 3340 feet elevation, can be part of a perfect fall day in Graham County. Combine a visit to the famous Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, the Maple Springs Overlook and the Cherohala Skyway, and you will be staggered by the glorious fall color and vistas. You may be lucky enough to be greeted with swirls of multicolored maple leaves blowing across the road on a breezy day. The Maple Springs Overlook is located about five miles past the turn into the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest parking lot. Park in the paved lot, which is literally the “end of the road”. Follow the brand-new composite boardwalk out to the deck, which overlooks the Slickrock Creek basin. The view is spectacular. Lake Santeetlah can be seen from the deck off to the right. The Little Santeetlah Creek watershed feeds into this beautiful lake.
The wildfires that swept through the Nantahala National Forest and the Joyce Kilmer - Slickrock Wilderness in the Fall of 2016 damaged the wood bridge and deck at Maple Springs Overlook. The original deck encircled a large tree which was lost to the fire. The deck was closed off to visitors for almost two years and has just been reopened, better than ever. The 900 ft boardwalk to the open deck circles around an island of trees, so you can walk in one way and walk out the other.
The Observation deck is an excellent place for pictures and a picnic lunch, but an alternative is to stop at the picnic area back down the road towards the Memorial Forest. There is a pull-off at an unusual rock formation consisting of rocks protruding vertically from the mountainside. The pull off offers a picnic table and trash can.
This section of highway going to the Maple Springs Overlook was originally constructed in the 1960’s as the beginning of the Cherohala Skyway. Thanks to the efforts of environmentalists from the government, groups like the Wilderness Society, activists and the general public, the construction of this route was halted. At that time the Cherohala Skyway was rerouted to the opposite end of Joyce Kilmer Road.
Today you can access the completed Cherohala Skyway by following the road back past the entrance to the memorial forest and continuing on another couple of miles until the road ends and NC 143 begins. A right turn towards the west will put you on the skyway, which rivals the Blue Ridge Parkway for its natural beauty.
Keep in mind that there are no restrooms at the Maple Springs Observation Deck area. The closest rest rooms can be found at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest parking/picnic area. You may wish to stop at the Graham County travel and Tourism office on the Rodney Orr bypass in Robbinsville to pick up a map and directions.
Kim Hainge: Author
Robbinsville, NC - Have you ever wanted to go blasting up that back country, winding mountain road at full speed, crossing the double yellow line, with no fear of oncoming traffic or police? Do you get a thrill out of pushing your car –and yourself – to the limit and wish you could do it on a public road safely and legally? If so, Hillclimbs just may be for you! For the 12th time since its inception in 2011, theCentral Carolinas Region of the Sports Car Club of America (CCR-SCCA) will be hosting the Chasing The Dragon Hillclimb on Santeetlah Rd in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Park, just outside Robbinsville, NC on August 10-11, 2019. This annual event (held twice each year from 2012 to 2015) draws competitors and spectators from across the country, testing their driving skills and trying to “Tame the Dragon”.
Hillclimbs are a unique form of racing in motorsports: similar to an autocross or time trial, the competitor is racing for a time and is “alone” on the course – not like in wheel to wheel racing where there are multiple cars on course competing against each other to finish first. However, unlike autocrosses that are held in a parking lot, or time trials held on a race course, a Hillclimb is contested on closed public or private roads. Cars must meet a set of safety requirements and drivers must have full safety gear, but other than that, it’s the driver against the hill. And whoever does the run in the shortest amount of time wins.
If driving is not for you or you’re “not quite there yet”, spectating at a Hillclimb is a unique and entertaining experience itself. Drivers and teams are very accessible and always willing to talk about their cars and their runs, with open paddock areas along the sides of the road before the start line. There are all kinds of machinery that will show up for a Hillclimb to enjoy, from exotic vintage cars to formula style open wheelers, to “daily driver” looking cars...and everything in between. Not to mention the great viewing areas right on course! And Hilllclimbs are always kid friendly.
But if you really want to get up close and personal and have the best seat in the house, how about signing up to be part of the action as a member of the Volunteer Staff? Volunteers get free lodging, lunch each day and Saturday dinner. But the real reward is actually being a part of the action and the appreciation you get from all the drivers. Our volunteer crew comes back year after year, and many have started competing. It’s a great way to learn the ropes and understand what this Hillclimb thing is all about!
For more information, including registration, sponsorship opportunities, volunteering and spectator info, please check out the CCR-SCCA website at www.ccrscca.com under Road Racing>Hillclimb. We hope to see you “on the hill” in May!