Appalachian Trail #1-02


Famous as the first National Scenic Trail, the Appalachian Trail (AT) enters the Cheoah District at the Nantahala River, climbs over Cheoah Bald and past Stecoah and Yellow Creek Gaps before descending to the Fontana Marina area and entering Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lands for the journey north.  Generally considered to be the most difficult section of the AT outside of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, this 29 mile section is marked by frequent up and down sections.  Good views are available from Cheoah Bald, and some nice views at other spots on the trail.  Heavily used during the “Spring Rush” of thru-hikers headed north in April through June, other times are less crowded, but still popular.

Southern Trailhead – 1723 Foot Elevation.  Nantahala River/Nantahala Outdoor Center, on US 74/19 (Wesser)

From the Nantahala River, this portion of the AT is a 3,300 foot climb up to Cheoah Bald at 8.4 miles.  Many hikers stay at the Sassafras Gap Shelter at 7 miles, only to be faced the next day with a 1,000 foot climb to start the day. There is camping on top of Cheoah Bald, but no water.  From Cheoah Bald, it is 5.2 miles to the next trailhead, or a total of 13.6 miles.

Stecoah Gap Trailhead – 3165 Foot Elevation.  This trailhead is located on Route 143, east of Robbinsville.  There are picnic tables, trash cans and a scenic overlook.  Hiking resources in Robbinsville are limited, but there are a few shuttle providers listed in the usual through-hiker guides.  Water is available from a spring about 250 yards down the gated, gravel road.  Camping is not allowed at the Gap, but there are some suitable camping spots on the gravel road.  From the Gap, the Brown Fork shelter is 2.25 miles.  The remaining 5.3 miles of this section consist of many uphill and downhill sections to the Yellow Creek Gap Trailhead.

Yellow Creek Gap Trailhead – 2890 foot Elevation.  This trailhead is located on a local road named Upper Tuskeegee Creek Road, Yellow Creek Gap Road or Yellow Creek Mountain Road (depending on your map).  From the Gap, Cable Gap Shelter is 0.9 miles and considered an easy hike.  From there, the trail continues another 7 miles to the Fontana Marina Trailhead.  About 2.8 miles from the Gap, or 1.9 miles past the Shelter, the trail reaches Walker Gap.  Just above the Fontana Marina Trailhead on Route 28, there is an intersection with the Benton MacKaye Trail, and that can be followed three miles west to Fontana Village and associated facilities, otherwise, the trail descends the short hill and crosses Route 28.

Fontana Marina Trailhead – 2,000 foot elevation.  Located on Route 28, this trailhead is well signed.  At this point, the trail leaves USFS lands and continues on property owned by the TVA and leased to Fontana Village Resort.  At the crossing are restrooms and a phone to call for a shuttle from Fontana Village.  The Marina has snacks and cold drinks.  The famous “Fontana Hilton”, a beautiful shelter with hot showers, is approximately 1 mile ahead.  PLEASE DO NOT try to hike Route 28 to Fontana Village, it is a very dangerous highway with blind corners and narrow road shoulders.  It is recommended to either use the Benton MacKaye Trail as a hiking alternate, or to call for a shuttle.  It is 3+ miles to Fontana Village, which has a nicely stocked general store (somewhat seasonal), rooms, food, laundry, and very limited mail facilities.  You can also get your Backcountry Permit for the stretch located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the lodge in Fontana Village.


General Information

General Notes:

Trail Length: 29 Miles

Difficulty: Strenuous

Usage: Heavy during April – June, moderate otherwise.

Average Hiking Times: Three days/2 nights for thru hikers.



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