Macon County is a hiker’s and birder’s paradise. There is much diversity to enjoy on the Little Tennessee River Greenway, but Macon County offers other wonderful opportunities as well. Check out the Tessentee Bottomland Preserve, Gibson Bottoms, and Queen Branch. Also of note, the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail runs through the County. Check out the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website at wildeast.appalachiantrail.org for some featured hikes in the area. Franklin, NC was designated an Appalachian Trail Community in 2010. Find out more at appalachiantrail.com (listed in the Archives section under Franklin, North Carolina: An Appalachian Trail Community.)
Tessentee Bottomland Preserve
Experience the richness and diversity of the Upper Little Tennessee at the Tessentee Bottomland Preserve. This more than 70-acre tract of bottomland and river bluff land lies at the junction of Tessentee Creek and the Little Tennessee River. Visitors can hike the most extensive trail system found on any Mainspring Conservation Trust property. The Tessentee Preserve is also stop #53 on the NC Birding Trail with the preserve’s bird list at 129 species and butterfly list at 56 species and counting. Volunteers have helped to restore the historic farmstead at Tessentee, restoring the apple house, smoke house, and the foundation of the historic farmhouse. The Tessentee preserve is a wonderful place to walk and appreciate the extraordinary richness and diversity of the Upper Little Tennessee.
Gibson Bottoms was fated to be an RV park before hundreds of Macon County citizens asked the state to halt the first permit for point source pollution on the river downstream of Franklin. Subsequently, Mainspring negotiated a contract to purchase the 36-acre tract from the developer. The financial support for this purchase came from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, a grant from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, made via the Conservation Fund, and private gifts from 85 friends of Mainspring who responded to an appeal letter in 2002. An adjacent 28.5 acres was conserved in 2005, which includes another 1,000 feet of river frontage. In 2017, Franklin High School senior Logan Mossbarger and volunteer John Garrison designed a layout and construction of a 1.7 mile trail on theproperty.
The Queen Branch parcel, which is a restoration site for mitigation purposes, was gifted to Mainspring by Duke Power in June 2004. Mainspring donated a conservation easement on the property to the State of North Carolina via the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and has managed the property for scenic beauty, exceptional water quality and aquatic habitat, productive farmland, public recreation, wildlife habitat, and historic qualities. The property is 16 acres with 1,600 feet of Little Tennessee River frontage just upstream of the Lost Bridge Tract, which Mainspring acquired in September 2003. The floodplain parcel has open meadows and wetlands and a significant archaeological site.
Part of the 100-mile Bartram Trail runs from Wallace Branch to William's Pulpit. It is a 4.1 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Franklin, North Carolina that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
Sections of the Appalachian Trail pass through Macon County. More information is available at alltrails.com. Winding Stair Gap to Siler Bald via Appalachian Trail is a 9.4 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Franklin, North Carolina that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, nature trips, and backpacking and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. Franklin to Nantahala is a 25.5 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near Franklin, North Carolina that offers the chance to see wildlife. The trail is rated as difficult and offers a number of activity options.