According to an article in American Association of Retired persons (AARP) since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials around the globe have zeroed in on one action to slow the spread of the virus: social distancing. But now, some experts are swapping that phrase for another that they say more accurately defines the concept.
“We’re changing to say ‘physical distance,’ and that’s on purpose because we want people to still remain connected,” Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization (WHO), said at a recent WHO press conference.
The coronavirus is thought to spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes, which is why keeping at least 6 feet of space from one another is “absolutely essential” to prevent infection, Van Kerkhove explained. “But it doesn’t mean that, socially, we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family.”
In this respect, Graham County, North Carolina shines like a star. The terrain of our beautiful county is mountainous, with elevations ranging from 1,177 feet to 5,560 feet above sea level. Two-thirds of the county is the Nantahala National Forest. Here are just 10 ways to step away from the stress for a time and take advantage of the opportunities provided:
1. Rent a cabin in the mountains and reconnect with nature. Come by yourself or with your family and loved ones. Rediscover the joys of the natural world. Have a campfire with S’mores. See the night sky filled with stars and fields filled with fireflies. Read stories out loud. Explore birdwatching by starting a Bird Life list and see how many different species of birds you can spot. The possibilities are endless.
2. Fishing– Graham County is home to three fresh water lakes: Fontana Lake, Lake Santeetlah and Cheoah Lake, offering numerous opportunities for many kinds of fishing and water sports. Additionally, the numerous sparkling mountain streams are filled with Brook, Brown and Rainbow trout giving you the opportunity to practice “blue-line trout fishing” to your heart’s content. If you would like to see the pictures of the size and kinds of fish people are catching, check out the Facebook page “Graham County Trout Fishing”.
3. Horseback riding. Graham County is filled with trails. Come bring your horse and spend quality time here. Learn about the local horse rescue farm called Double 00 Farm at Ranch. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to read, “Yoga for Riders.” Learn new yoga, horse and life-enrichment skills and become a more mindful equestrian. Graham County author and Yogi Cathy Wood’s new book can be ordered in June with Horse and Rider Books and your copy will be shipped free (within the US) as soon they become available! Complete with LOTS of beautiful images and tips/instructions to stay fit (body, mind & spirit) so when you get back to riding you are in shape and ready to go!
4. Boating and Water Sports – For the rafting and kayaking enthusiast, the Cheoah River is noted for its Class IV and Class V whitewater rapids. The river is used for whitewater rafting about 17 days per year, based on a water-release schedule from Santeetlah Dam. What could be more fun than bringing your kayak or canoe with you to Graham County and spending hours floating on a serene lake? Have you learned to Paddleboard yet? Now is the opportunity. Stop for a picnic lunch on the shores and maybe try some Fishing while you are there! Guides are available if needed.
5. Camping and Hiking – The majority of land in Graham County is U.S. Forest Service land and there are numerous campsites available for both tent and RV camping. Three trails traverse Graham County; The Appalachian Trail, The Benton Mackaye Wilderness Trail and the Bartram Trail. It is possible to spend an entire week on these trails and never leave Graham County!
6. Mountain Biking – Load up bicycles and ride along the Cherohala Skyway or explore challenging mountain trails such as the Tsali Bike trail.
7. Trail of Tears and Cherokee heritage – Retrace the history of the Trail of Tears and learn about the Snowbird Cherokee in Graham County. Walk the land of your ancestors and investigate your genealogy while staying in one of the many lodges Graham County contains.
8. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest– The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is an internationally known 3,800-acre tract of publicly owned virgin forest in Graham County, North Carolina, named in memory of poet Joyce Kilmer (1886–1918), best known for his poem “Trees”. One of the largest contiguous tracts of old growth forest in the Eastern United States, the area is administered by the U. S. Forest Service. The memorial forest is a popular family hiking destination and features a moderate two-mile, figure-eight trail that includes a memorial plaque at the juncture of the two loops. In 1975 the memorial forest was joined with a much larger tract of the Nantahala National Forest to become part of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.
9. Motorcycling/Sportscar – Our county has three of the best motorcycle/sportscar touring roads in America. The Tail of the Dragon (US 129) will challenge even the best riders/drivers with its 318 curves in 11 miles. The 50 mile-long Cherohala Skyway offers breathtaking views of Joyce Kilmer and the Cherokee National Forest from mile-high vistas. Moonshiner 28 skirts Cheoah and Fontana Lakes with challenging twists and turns.
10. Photography – Graham County offers an outstanding opportunity to practice photography. Stay in one of our lodges, hotels or rental cabins and use it as a base for exploring the natural beauty of the area. Set up tripods and capture the night sky or the fireflies. Capture kayaks on white water or motorcycles as they challenge themselves on the “Dragon”.

There are so many things to do in Graham County while remaining physically distanced from others. It is a healing place. Spending time here helps to center a racing mind and reminds us of things that are really important to us. Come and visit. It could change your life.

Kim Hainge: author

Joyce Kilmer Forest
US Forest Service
Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts logo
Smoky Mountain Host of North Carolina logo
Graham Revitalization Economic Action Team logo
Blue Ridge Natural Heritage Area logo
Azalea Society of America logo
Graham County Historical Association logo
Friends of the Smokies