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U.S. Forest Service

Southern Region Viewing Area


plantain-leaf sedge The plantain-leaf sedge is a beautiful herbaceous plant even without a charismatic flower and is one the cove forest's harbingers of spring. Photo by Duke Rankin.

Stinking Willie Stinking Willie (Trifolium erectum) in its white flowered form is one of many trilliums that may be found at Ledbetter Creek and in other cove forests of the Nantahala National Forest. Photo by Duke Rankin.

Striped cream violet Striped cream violet (Viola striata) is one of several violets that you may encounter at Ledbetter Creek. Photo by Duke Rankin.

Ledbetter Creek with rhododendrons along the stream's banks The picturesque Ledbetter Creek with ever present rhododendrons along the stream's banks. Photo by Duke Rankin.

Cascades and moss covered rocks on Ledbetter Creek. Ledbetter Creek has many beautiful cascades and numerous moss covered rocks. Photo by Duke Rankin.

Ledbetter Creek Trail

Forest: Nantahala National Forest

District: Nantahala Ranger District

Description: The Ledbetter Creek Trail is a short, easy trail into a cove forest. The trail contains a few gentle steps leading from the parking area. At the top of the short hill, the trail crosses a set of railroad tracks at an unimproved crossing, then continues through a backcountry camping site and down into a bowl-shaped cove. The forested cove contains an assortment of spring wildflowers, including toothwort, foamflower, sweet trillium, stinking Willie – also known as red trillium, although the petals are often white – and several species of violets: long-spurred violets, striped or cream-colored violets, dog violets and yellow violets. In addition, the railroad crossing is one of the few locations on the forest where hikers can see fringed phacelia, an annual wildflower that is more common in the Great Smoky Mountains. The trail into the cove is less than an eighth of a mile, and easily retraced to the parking area. The short trail into the cove overlaps a section of a longer trail that parallels the railroad tracks, creating the opportunity for additional hiking. The best time to see wildflowers is mid to late April.

Safety First: The Ledbetter Creek Trail crosses the tracks of the Great Smoky Mountains Scenic Railroad. The crossing is unimproved, and hikers need to be aware of the course rocks and iron rails at the crossing. Trains are uncommon and move slowly through the area, but may block the trail for a few minutes. Ledbetter Creek is swift, and children playing near the creek should be closely supervised. Hikers crossing the creek, even at trail crossings, may find the rocks slippery and dangerous. Poison ivy can be common along the edge of the trail, especially along the sections just beyond the railroad crossing. Hikers should always carry a snack, water, and wear comfortable hiking boots.

Directions: The Ledbetter Creek Trail is located in Nantahala Gorge, a scenic, narrow valley surrounded by steep mountains. The trail begins at a picnic area adjacent to U.S. Highway 19, the primary road through the gorge. From Bryson City, follow Highway 19 southwest about 16 miles. The picnic area will be on right, or north, side of the road. From Andrews, follow U. S. Highways 19/129 northeast about 12 miles. The picnic area will be on the left, about 0.4 miles beyond a large river access parking area. The picnic area is both visible from the highway and adjacent to a scenic rail bridge. In addition to hiking and wildflowers, Nantahala Gorge contains a variety of recreational opportunities, including biking, riding the scenic railroad, and family rafting on the Nantahala River.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Nantahala National Forest, Nantahala Ranger District.

Closest Towns: Bryson City and Andrews, North Carolina.

For More Information: Contact the Nantahala Ranger District, 90 Sloan Rd., Franklin, NC 28734  (828) 524-6441.