This is a very popular loop trail that circles the headwaters of the Nantahala river. Standing Indian Basin is the horseshoe-shaped drainage formed by the Nantahala and Blue Ridge Mountains. Several prominent peaks over 5,000 feet in elevation—Albert Mountain, Big Butt, Little Bald, and Standing Indian Mountain—cap the rim of the drainage. There are many trails through the area and several options exist for loop trails. What makes this area so attractive for hiking is the way the Appalachian Trail (AT) strangely forms about 270 degrees of a loop, which is easily connect with local trails. Parking is available at the Backcountry Information Center (a kiosk with maps and safety info) which is located a few hundred yards past the Standing Indian Campground (bathrooms and even a shower available in the campground just a short walk from the parking lot) on Forest Service Rd 67. The campers were a father and his 12 year old son. Hiking poles are highly recommended as always.
We started the loop on the Long Branch Trail (the sign is visible from the parking area). I recommend starting here and proceeding clockwise around the loop because the ascents are not as steep and you do not start off climbing to the tallest peak on the trip from the base of the valley. Going this direction, only about 300 ft of the climb up Mt Albert is steep, all other grades are easily manageable. In the opposite direction, the climb up Mt Albert is extremely steep and gains about 400 ft at that rate.
The first campsite in this direction is about 1.75 mi up the trail in a clearing. If you can manage about 5.5 mi hiking on your first day you can camp at the summit of Mt Albert, which had a few good spots and clear views of the Milky Way at night (assuming no clouds). Most of the major gaps have plentiful camping sites, and waypoints from the Backpacker magazine’s AT section provide other locations (and water sources). Water is generally plentiful on this trail, but in early October not all the sources provided adequate flow for pumping. I recommend filling up at the ‘008Road’ point on the Long Branch Creek. The water is plentiful and easy to pump. On our trip the sources near Glassmine Gap were flowing well, the next water source was ‘20WATERPIPE’ south of Mt Albert. The remainder of the water sources were pretty reliable including the springs at Carter Gap and Standing Indian.
If you want to get the campsite of the summit of Standing Indian, plan on getting to it early in the day. We arrived about 3:20 and it was still available, but within 45 all the summit spots (including several back in the woods toward the 2 southern viewing points) were already taken. Several groups came up looking for spots and did not find any. The summit site allows spectacular views of the sunset from while sitting at the fire. But the views at the southern viewing points are better, and the one in the middle seemed the best. Where ever you stay make sure you go to the other lookout points, which are fairly easy to find by looking for outcroppings of rock. Three tents were set up in the trees south of the summit, which should also allow you to access these views of the sunset.
We chose to descend the Lower Ridge Trail (4.2 mi) rather than the more popular Kimsey Creek Trail (7.0 mi). In our case it gave us a good 1-1.5 hr head start on the trip back to FL. I also had been unable to find a good GPS track of the trail so it is nice to be able to post one. Both trails are consistently very steep. The Kimsey Creek Trail seems to follow the creek closely, which is always nice. The Lower Ridge Trail is very beautiful, too, but probably doesn’t beat a creek to follow. Also if you plan to stay at the Standing Indian Shelter then the Kimsey Creek Trail is a better choice. Clearly the advantage of the Lower Ridge Trail is shorter distance and faster exit, but it is a pretty trail even if it is steeper because it descends 2000 ft in 3.75 mi instead of about 5.5 mi.
In summary, this is the perfect loop trail: it includes 15 mi of the AT, has 2 summits with spectacular views, does not involve any difficult climbs, has frequent established campsites to customize the distances per day, and has many water sources. It even has alternate trail options and the flexibility of keeping it leisurely or fast paced as desired. Just get out there!
NOTE: Several of the waypoints were taken from Backpacker Mag's AT trip from the area for preplanning.
TO TRAILHEAD: In Franklin, NC, take US64
west for 12 miles to Standing Indian campground sign. Turn left onto
Old Murphy Rd and go 1.9 miles to campground sign. Turn right onto Rt
67 and go 1.8 miles to "Y"
intersection. Continue 200yds past campground entrance to Backcountry Information Center.
Fire Tower, Glassmine Gap, Betty Creek Gap, Beech Gap, Carter Gap, Appalachian Trail, Lower Ridge Trail, Standing Indian, north carolina, Mt Albert, Big Spring Gap, Nantahala River, Long Branch Trail, franklin, Coleman Gap, Bear Pen Gap, Mooney Gap