Pulling off Highway 64 into the Nantahala National Forest, the cell phone loses service - it's time to officially disconnect. Although only 30 minutes from the charming town of Franklin, camping at Standing Indian Campground offers an unexpected remoteness from the hustle and bustle of life. At an elevation of 3800 feet and at the headwaters of the Nantahala River, camp here to escape the summer heat and humidity, or visit in the fall to savor the brilliant autumn colors.
Standing Indian Campground
Having wrapped up our time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Cades Cove Campground and Deep Creek Campground, we were looking forward to camping at Standing Indian Campground - surrounded by equally beautiful mountains, but significantly less busy than the previous locations. We pulled up to the Camp Store for a friendly check-in before heading to our campsite. We also arranged for a half load of firewood to be delivered to our campsite for $15 (easily enough for a long weekend). Ice, snacks, and camping sundries are available for purchase as well.
Standing Indian Campground has five loops with both reservable and first-come, first serve campsites. We camped in Loop 5 which was accessed by a gravel drive and situated on a hillside. Although a bit of a hike from the bathroom, we opted for the large, private campsite #66 that backed up to a stream. Lushly lined with rhododendrons, the campground must be stunning when in bloom.
The other loops looked more RV friendly with paved roads and level ground. Although no hookups, you'll find a dump station near the Backcountry Information Board before you pull into the campground.
Standing Indian Campground Things to Know:
- Hot showers (push button every 30 seconds), flush toilets - super clean bathrooms
- No hookups - dump station near campground entrance
- Camping store: wood, ice, basic supplies, snacks
- Dark campground - make sure you have a flashlight or headlamps
Hiking at Standing Indian Campground
Kimsey Creek Trail
You can pick up the Kimsey Creek Trail at the Backcountry Information Board. First, follow the Park Creek Trail to the Kimsey Creek Trail. The Kimsey trail then backtracks through Standing Indian Campground.
However, we recommend accessing the Park Creek Trail in the campground at the bridge that crosses the Nantahala River. Park Creek Trail follows the Nantahala; look for Kimsey Creek Trail (blue rectangular blaze) on your left. As you continue to hike along, you'll pass the outdoor amphitheater and group camping area (you could access the trail from those points, but there is no spur trail and it has a rather steep incline). A bridge then takes you over Kimsey Creek and beckons for a round of 'Pooh Sticks' before continuing on. The trail is often wet with multiple water crossings, so be prepared with appropriate footwear. Dense vegetation and a thick canopy kept us refreshingly cool while hiking mid-day.
- Trail length: 4.1 miles one-way distance to Deep Gap
- Trail Loop: 11.3 (Kimsey Creek Trail to Deep Gap to Appalachian Trail (Standing Indian Summit) to Lower Ridge Trail) - I'd recommend a good trail map if making the loop.
- TIP: If you are not camping, park in the Standing Indian Campground day-use area ($2 fee).
Purchase the official Nantahala National Forest Trail Map here
Waterfalls Along Scenic Highway 64 Waterfall Byway
Bust Your Butt Falls (swimming hole)
Take a break at the popular swimming hole and sliding rock on the Cullasaja River, Bust Your Butt Falls. Based on its name, watch out when playing on the slippery rocks. It also makes the perfect spot to bask in the sunshine while having a picnic lunch.
Warning: Always use caution when swimming - in 2009 a man drowned here after getting his leg stuck in a hole.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls formerly allowed cars to drive behind it, but now has been blocked off due to safety concerns. Fed by a tributary of the Cullasaja River, Bridal Veil Falls drops a modest 60-ft veil of water which the kids enjoyed playing under. In times of low rainfall, don't expect much. Pull into the small parking area - no hiking necessary!
Warning: busy highway traffic - keep an eye on the kids.
Next, stop at the dramatic Dry Falls where the Cullasaja River cascades 80 feet over a cliff allowing folks to walk behind it and stay dry - thus its name. Although, depending on the volume of the waterfall, you'll still get some spray-back. With the high numbers of visitors, we recommend arriving either early morning or late afternoon. The short, mostly paved trail includes a steep set of stairs. If limited mobility, there is an observation deck off the parking lot.
Things to Know for Dry Falls:
- Fee: $3/vehicle
- Vault toilet
Additional Waterfalls Near Standing Indian Campground
Big Laurel Falls & Mooney Falls
Drive five miles on FR67 past the turn off to Standing Indian Campground and bag two waterfalls: Big Laurel Falls and Mooney Falls (note - gravel road for part of the drive). One mile round trip hike to the 20-foot Big Laurel Falls. Then, continue on the forest service road for less than a mile and enjoy a short stroll to Mooney Falls.
Ruby City Gems Jewelry Store & Museum
Located in the heart of Franklin aka the "Gem Capital of the World, " make time to drop by Ruby City Gems, owned by 3rd-generation jewelers. Housed in a former 19th century county jail, enter and feast your eyes on the brilliant gems, colorful array of rocks & minerals, and sparkling geodes. Continue browsing and you'll find Himalayan salt lamps, rock tumblers, and gem mining equipment. In fact, after a day of mining, bring your treasures in the rough here to be custom cut into finely finished gems.
More than a jewelry store, head to the museum in the back of the store. The founder of Ruby City Gems, Ernest Klatt, acquired a fascinating collection which includes rare gems & minerals, Oriental ivory, and various pre-Columbian artifacts. Some of our favorites were the giant mammoth teeth, the world's largest sapphire, and fluorescing stones. Only 30 minutes from Standing Indian Campground - definitely worth the stop!
Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum
Heading to the Highway 64 waterfalls from our Standing Indian Campground base, we happened on the Wilderness Taxidermy and Wildlife Museum. The words "museum" and "free" caught our eyes. Not sure what to expect, but curious, we stopped in. A 6000 sq. foot modern facility that combines both taxidermy working studio and exotic wildlife museum greeted us. The museum exhibits unique specimens mounted with exquisite craftsmanship as well as a recreated Appalachian building.
Lucky for us, we happened to meet the owners, Bill and Linda Fuchs, whose genuine warmth and engaging manner made us feel right at home. Bill, a former Alabama teacher, and Linda, a former dental hygienist, recounted what led them to reinvent their lives and boldly launch into such an adventurous career in taxidermy and safari hunts. They also shared tales of exciting adventures - one such as helping a village by ridding it of a notorious man-eating crocodile (you can see the crocodile in the museum) - as well as their travels in places such as Tanzania, Russia, and the Amazon. Another must stop on your way to waterfalls!