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