Wagon Train/Stewart Cabin Road
Enter this Forest Service gravel road (FR81) at Santeetlah Gap at the beginning of the Cherohala Skyway in North Carolina at 2660 feet elevation. The road winds downhill and crosses Santeetlah Creek at 2234 feet elevation.
This 12 mile trek then meanders along the Big Santeetlah Creek for most of the way and ends at Stratton Meadows on the Cherohala Skyway near the Tennessee border. Along the way there are some great trout fishing spots for you to test your skills.
There are some remote camp sites and picnic areas. Several years ago, we met our good friend Pete who had just arrived from Oregon on his KLR and was camping on “Big Creek”. He bought property in Graham County and lived here full time. We bought his teal green with purple seat “Barbie” KLR.
Stewart Cabin is located at the large hunt camp at mile 3.5. Originally located a short distance away on the creek in the late 1800s, it was moved after a flood and rebuilt in its present location. It is maintained by the Forest Service and is a great example of backwoods construction.
There are several side roads along Stewart Cabin Road which dead end and provide lots of exploring. The road to Wolf Laurel at mile 9.0 is a beautiful climb. From the parking area at the end (2.5 miles) you can take a short hike to Stratton Bald. This is one of the more popular camping sites for hikers because of the spectacular views from the mountaintop.
There is even the rustic Swan Cabin (and we mean rustic) on Wolf Laurel that can be rented from the Forest Service from late March to the end of December for a small fee. Built in 1931 by Frank Swan, this rental has absolutely no modern facilities. Or just bring a tent and spend a few days in this wilderness area.
The Wagon Train Roads intersects the Cherohala Skyway at mile 11 at an elevation of 4300 feet.
These Forest Service roads are only for licensed vehicles. This road is closed early January through late March from Sand Creek to the Cherohala.
North River Road / Bald River Falls
Continuing on the gravel road (FR81) passing under the Cherohala Skyway at 4300 foot elevation, you enter Tennessee on North River Road (FR217). Buried next to the overpass on the north side is Absolum (AB) Stratton (1772-1852). The Strattons lived nearby when Absolum became sick. As family members hewed-out a large log for Absolum’s coffin and buried him on the Tennessee/North Carolina State Line. Absolum had stated that he liked both states equally well.
The road takes some sharp cutbacks as if descends rather steeply towards the Tellico River. At mile one there is a road off to the left that leads up to Whigg Meadow. This road becomes rough and is not recommended for standard vehicles.
After several miles on North River Road you begin to encounter camp sites along the North River which begins as a small branch and grows as you descend. FR217 intersects the paved road FR210 at the Tellico River. This road is known as River Road. The total distance from the Cherohala to River Road is 12 miles and mostly gravel.
Take a left on FR210 (River Road) which follows the Tellico River. There is a small hunting/fishing camp complete with rustic motel at Spivey Cove. Believe us when we say rustic – this is way out in the middle of nowhere and not for the squeamish. If you continue on this road for another mile or two, you will arrive at the State Line camping area and the “Upper Tellico Off-Road Vehicle Area”. The ORV area is currently (2015) closed.. The main gravel road leading to Murphy is also closed.
Make a U-turn and head back down River Road following the Tellico River. You will soon enter the Bald River Gorge Wilderness area. There is camping here and one of the highest, easily accessible waterfalls you can imagine. You can get a great view of the falls without even getting out of your car.
A few more miles heading west on River Road and you will intersect the Cherohala Skyway (165) again just a few miles east of Tellico Plains.