Macon County’s total area is approximately 516 square miles of land and 3 square miles of water. Within the 519 square miles that make up Macon County, one may find great personal wealth in the many riches the County has to offer its residents and visitors. Nestled in the heart of The Great Smoky Mountains, there is an array of beauty for all to take bounty in. Once you come to Macon County, you will never want to leave nor will you forget the experiences the natural wonders have to offer.
Of the 519 square miles in Macon County, 239.31 square miles (46.1%) are federal lands that lie within the Nantahala National Forest and are administered by the United States Forest Service. Of the 239.31 square miles of USFS land, 71.56 square miles lie in the Highlands Ranger District and the remaining 167.75 square miles lie in the Wayah Ranger District. (19) The county's largest natural water supply is the Cullasaja River.
Macon County is divided into the eleven townships of: Franklin, Highlands, Cartoogechaye, Cowee, Ellijay, Flats, Millshoal, Nantahala, Smithbridge and Sugarfork. The following counties border Macon County: Swain County, NC to the North, Jackson County, NC to the east, Rabun County, GA to the south, Clay County, NC to the southwest, Cherokee County, NC to the west and Graham County, NC to the northwest.
ElevationMacon County North Carolina is located within the Eastern Standard time zone. The elevation here ranges between 2,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level. The latitude of Franklin, North Carolina is 35.182 degrees north and the longitude is -83.381 degrees west. (4) The postal zip codes for Franklin, NC are 28734 and 28744. The area code is (828).
Nantahala National ForestThe Nantahala National Forest was established in 1920 and surrounds Macon County with an intense natural beauty. The word "Nantahala" is a Cherokee word meaning "Land of the Noonday.” The name is appropriate as, in some spots, the sun only reaches the floors of the deep gorges of the national forest when directly overhead at midday. The Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto explored the area in 1540, as did William Bartram in the 18th century. The Nantahala National Forest is home to the famous Nantahala River (Please see scenic vista below of the Nantahala National Forest). (6)
The Nantahala National Forest
The Nantahala National Forest is administered by the United States Forest Service, part of the United States Department of Agriculture and is the largest of the four national forests in North Carolina, lying in the mountains and valleys of western North Carolina. The terrain varies in elevation from 5,800 feet (1,767.8 m) at Lone Bald in Jackson County, to 1,200 feet (365.8 m) in Cherokee County along the Hiwassee River below the Appalachian Dam. It is the home of many western NC waterfalls. The last part of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway travels through this forest. The total area under management is 531,286 acres (830.13 sq mi; 2,150.04 km2). In descending order of land area it is located in parts of Macon, Graham, Cherokee, Jackson, Clay, Swain, and Transylvania counties. (6) Again, Macon County is right in the middle of the Nantahala Forest.
MountainsThe Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a vast system of mountains in eastern North America and surround Macon County. The Appalachians are believed to have been the highest mountains on Earth roughly 460 million years ago during the Ordovician Period, much like the Himalayas today, when all of today's continents were joined as the super continent Pangaea. (16) The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east-west travel as it forms a series of alternating ridgelines and valleys oriented in opposition to any road running east-west. (16)
The Appalachian Mountain Range is mostly located in the United States but extends into southeastern Canada, forming a zone from 100 to 300 miles (160 to 480 km) wide, running from the island of Newfoundland 1,500 miles (2,400 km) south-westward to Central Alabama in the United States. The system is divided into a series of ranges, with the individual mountains averaging around 3,000 ft (900 m). The highest of the group is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet (2,037 m), which is the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River. (17)
LakesNantahala Lake is located in Macon County, North Carolina in the western part of the state. The lake is regulated and maintained by Duke Power and is a major source of hydroelectric power to the region. (7) Nantahala is located at 3,000 feet in the Nantahala National Forest. The lake was created in 1942 by Nantahala Power to provide electricity for war efforts. With 42 miles (68 km) of shoreline, the lake offers recreational opportunities at Nantahala that include swimming, boating, skiing, and many other activities. Fishing is another popular activity at the lake. Fisherman target largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, salmon, catfish, and many different species of panfish. (7)
The Nantahala River, one of the nation's top rafting and kayaking destinations, is supplied with its water by Nantahala Lake. Water is released from the Nantahala Dam to create the whitewater rapids in the river. When the river is not being supplied, it is very calm but when the water is released from the lake it is considered 'on,' which is when kayaking and rafting occurs. Without Nantahala Lake, the region would lose its whitewater industry and a huge source of income. (7)
Beautiful Lake Chatuge is nestled between two states and the two towns of Hiawassee Georgia and Hayesville North Carolina. This pristine lake has 132 miles of shoreline and is ideal for fishing, swimming, boating and camping. The place "where the water dogs laughed," is how Cherokee legend described the Tusquitee area. A part of the Nantahala National Forest in Clay County, North Carolina., it is one of the most scenic lakes in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) water system. (8)
This pristine lake, exquisitely nestled between the Tusquitee Mountains named "the Great Blue Hills of God," by the Cherokee has 128 miles of shoreline and is ideal for fishing, swimming, boating and camping. Visitors enjoy casual walks along the dam with its spectacular view of the lake and surrounding mountains. The lake has numerous outcrops of land forming numerous private coves that are for great fishing, swimming, boating, and water sports. The fishing is great with more than 32 species in the lake. (8)
The breathtaking Lake Glenville is a reservoir located just 8 miles from Cashiers, North Carolina or about a 45 minute ride from Franklin, NC. It was formed by the damming of the west fork of the Tuckasegee River in 1941. Between 1951 and 2002, it was officially known as "Thorpe Reservoir" after J. E. S. Thorpe, Nantahala Power's first president. It is still listed as such on many maps. The lake bottom plunges as steeply as the mountains that meet the shore. The depth a short distance from the waters edge may register 80 feet (24 m) or more. The lake also has 26 miles (42 km) of shoreline and the highest elevation of any lake east of the Mississippi. (9)
Fontana Lake is a reservoir impounded by Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee River located in Graham and Swain counties in North Carolina, which is about a 45 minute ride from Franklin, NC. The lake forms part of the southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the northern border of part of the Nantahala National Forest. Depending on water levels, the lake is about 17 miles (27 km) long. The eastern end is the Tuckasegee River near Bryson City. The lake has many inlets into coves and many islands formed from former mountain peaks, especially near the eastern end. As with most dam-impounded lakes, the steep banks are exposed when water levels are low. Many towns were submerged shortly after the creation of Fontana Lake, such as Proctor and Judson (please see picture of Fontana Dam below). (10)
Short of a multi-day hike, Fontana Lake provides the only access into the most remote areas of the Smoky Mountain National Park. When the lake is at the normal summer level, a boat may be used to access remote trailheads such as Hazel Creek. From the observation tower on Clingmans Dome (please see picture below), on a clear day the lake can be seen nearly a mile below. While the maximum controlled elevation of the lake (top of dam gates) is 1,710 ft (520 m), the normal Summer surface elevation is 1,703 ft (519 m). NC 28 roughly parallels the southern shore of the lake and US 19 between Bryson City and Wesser/Lauada briefly skims an inlet at the extreme southeastern edge. (11)
Aside from the many creeks and streams that gently roll through Macon County, there are 2 main rivers that flow through the County. The Cullasaja River flows from Highlands, NC into The Little Tennessee River which flows right through the center of Franklin, NC.
The Cullasaja River is a short river located entirely in Macon County, North Carolina. It is a tributary of the Little Tennessee River (and in turn the Tennessee River, Ohio River and Mississippi River), into which it flows near the county seat of Franklin. It originates to the southeast, near Highlands, the county's only other town. It flows from the manmade Lake Sequoyah, which is fed by Mirror Lake and other creeks and streams originating on the western side of the Eastern Continental Divide, which runs through the east side of Highlands, NC. (5)
A two-lane highway called Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, which is the combined route of U.S. 64 and NC 28, runs through the Cullasaja Gorge, which is mostly protected as part of the Nantahala National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service has designated this to be a National Scenic Byway because of the river, and its numerous waterfalls, including:
Bridal Veil Falls, actually from a tributary creek
Dry Falls, which visitors can walk behind without getting wet
Quarry Falls, also known as Bust-Yer-Butt Falls
Cullasaja Falls, the major cascade of falls
The road between Franklin, NC and Highlands, NC is known as the Franklin Road near Highlands, and Highlands Road near Franklin. There are 3 townships located in the valley below the gorge: Cullasaja, Gneiss, and Sugar Fork. The Cullasaja's largest tributary is most likely Buck Creek. (5)
There are also several former Cherokee towns located along the Cullasaja River. The town of Ellijay was on Ellijay Creek, a tributary of Cullasaja River. Several Cherokee towns were called Kulsetsiyi (or Sugartown), abbreviated Kulsetsi, including one on Cullasaja River near Ellijay Creek. "Cullasaja" is a variant spelling of the Cherokee town name "Kulsetsi". This Cherokee town's name is also the origin of the name "Sugar Fork". (5)
One of the largest and most important Cherokee towns, known as Nikwasi or Nucassee, was located at the confluence of Cullasaja River with the Little Tennessee River. The town of Franklin grew on the former site of the Nikwasi town. (5)
The Little Tennessee River starts in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the Chattahoochee. National Forest in northeast Georgia's Rabun County. After flowing north through the mountains past Dillard into Southwestern North Carolina, it is joined by the Cullasaja River in Franklin, then turns northwest, flowing through the Nantahala National Forest along the north side of the Nantahala Mountains and past Lauada. It crosses into eastern Tennessee and joins the Tennessee River at Lenoir City, 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Knoxville. The Little Tennessee River is 135 miles long and is a tributary to the Tennessee River. (3)
The lower part of the Little Tennessee River is impounded in several places by sequential dams, some created as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system, forming a string of reservoirs in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee down to its confluence with the Tennessee River. Near the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee, it is impounded by the 480 feet (146 m) high Fontana Dam, completed in 1944, forming Fontana Lake along the southern boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is also impounded by Cheoah Dam in North Carolina, and by Calderwood and Chilhowee dams in Tennessee. The reservoirs provide flood control and hydroelectric power. (3)
The Little Tennessee River and its immediate watershed comprise one of the richest archaeological areas in the southeastern United States, containing substantial habitation sites dating back to as early as 7,500 B.C. (1) Cyrus Thomas, who conducted a mound survey in the area for the Smithsonian Institution in the 1880s, wrote that the Little Tennessee River was "undoubtedly the most interesting archaeological section in the entire Appalachian district." (2)
WaterfallsCullasaja Falls is a waterfall in Southwestern North Carolina just outside of Franklin, NC on the Highlands Road. The waterfall is located on the Cullasaja River in the Nantahala National Forest and is part of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. Cullasaja comes from a Cherokee word meaning "honey locust place." The falls is the last major waterfall on the Cullasaja river. (12) The falls is a long cascade over the course of 0.2 miles (0.32 km). The height of the falls is given as 200 ft (61 m) in Kevin Adams' book, North Carolina Waterfalls and 250 ft (77.1 m) by NCWaterfalls.com. (13) However, Google Earth gives a height (based on the elevation of the water at the top of the falls and the elevation of the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls) of 137 ft (42 m).
It is easy to catch a glimpse of the Cullasaja Falls as you drive by; however, getting a better view of the falls is not easy. The falls are located beside of a series of blind curves on Highway 64 with sheer rock cliffs above and below the road. There is only one small pull-off near the falls, but walking on the road puts visitors in danger of being hit by a passing vehicle.
Dry Falls, also known as Upper Cullasaja Falls, is a 65-foot (20.1 m) waterfall located in the Nantahala National Forest, northwest of Highlands, North Carolina on the Highlands Road between Franklin and Highlands. Dry Falls flows on the Cullasaja River through the Nantahala National Forest. It is part of a series of waterfalls on a 8.7-mile (14.0 km) stretch of the river that eventually ends with Cullasaja Falls. Dry Falls flows over an overhanging bluff that allows visitors to walk up under the falls and remain relatively dry when the waterflow is low, hence its name. Visitors will get wet if the waterflow is high. The falls has been called Dry Falls for a long time, but has also gone by a few other names, including High Falls, Pitcher Falls, and Cullasaja Falls (please see picture below). (14)
Dry Falls is located on the side of U.S. Highway 64 15.7 miles (25.3 km) southeast of Franklin, North Carolina. There is a parking area on the side of the road, where visitors can park before walking the short path with stairs to the falls. The United States Forest Service has made improvements to the parking area and has reopened the public area (please see picture below).
Bridal Veil Falls is a 45-foot (20.1 m) waterfall located in the Nantahala National Forest, southeast of Franklin. With a short curve of roadway located behind the falls, it has the distinction of being the only waterfall in the state that one can drive a vehicle under. Bridal Veil Falls flows on a tributary of the Cullasaja River through the Nantahala National Forest. (15)
Bridal Veil Falls flows over an overhanging bluff that allows visitors to walk behind the falls and remain dry when the waterflow is low. During periods of drought, the stream may nearly dry up, though visitors will get wet if the waterflow is moderate or high. To avoid this, stay in your vehicle and drive behind the falls. Bridal Veil Falls is located on the side of U.S. Highway 64 16.5 miles (26.6 km) southeast of Franklin. Highway 64 originally used the curve of roadway behind the falls exclusively so that all traffic went behind them; however, this caused problems with icing of the roadway during freezing weather, and Hwy. 64 has been re-routed around the front of the falls since. There is a parking area on the side of the road, where visitors can park and view the falls as well. In 2003, a massive boulder slid off the left side of the falls, blocking that side of the drive-under completely. However, in July 2007, that boulder was removed by a local developer (please see picture below). (15)
Bridal Veil Falls
Quarry Falls is a small waterfall (or perhaps large rapid in high water) located beside US Hwy. 64 southeast of Franklin, North Carolina. Known to locals as "Sliding Rock," it is best known for the large, deep pool at the bottom and is a popular place for swimming during warm weather. During the summertime, many are swimming in the pool and sliding down the rock as a means to stay cool in the warmer months (please see picture below).
Glen Falls is a wonderful place to visit if you enjoy short distant hiking. Glen Falls is just off of Hwy 64 in Highlands, NC. To get to Glen Falls take a left on Hwy 106 outside of Highlands, go about 1.7 miles and look for the sign to Glen Falls Scenic area on the left. The gravel road to the Falls (SR 1618) veers off immediately to the right after you take the left, so go slow. The road dead ends into the parking area. In a short distance from the parking area, the trail brings you to a nice view across the mountains. Continue down the trail and to a railing on the right for this view looking down the waterfall. The trail is about 3/4 mile and not bad if your in OK shape (please see picture below). (18)
1. Jefferson Chapman, Tellico Archaeology: 12,000 Years of Native American History (Norris, Tenn.: Tennessee Valley Authority, 1985), 41.
2. Chapman, Tellico Archaeology, 16.
4. US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. http://www.census.gov/geo/www/gazetteer/gazette.html. Retrieved 2011-04-23
6. Mary Byrd Davis (23 January 2008). "Old Growth in the East: A Survey. North Carolina". http://www.primalnature.org/ogeast/nc.pdf
10. U.S. Geological survey 1983
11. TVA Fontana Operating Guide
12. Kevin Adams, North Carolina Waterfalls, p. 470
14. Kevin Adams, North Carolina Waterfalls, p. 467
16. Geologic Provinces of the United States: Appalachian Highlands Province". USGS. http://geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/parks/province/appalach.html. Retrieved 2010-07-19.
19. http://www.ltlt.org/fp02172006.html Land Trust for the Little Tennessee