Hike to stunning views from the Standing Indian Mountain summit on the Appalachian Trail, climbing from Deep Gap and the Standing Indian AT shelter near Franklin, NC.
LOCATION:on the Appalachian Trail near Franklin, NC
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map
Towering, leafy deciduous trees shade the Appalachian Trail as it meanders through Deep Gap, a particularly beautiful stretch of forest in North Carolina’s Southern Nantahala Wilderness. Rising from the gap, the trail climbs through switchbacks and rhododendron tunnels to the summit of Standing Indian Mountain, where views stretch over deep-cut valleys and chiseled mountains. It’s one of our favorite Appalachian Trail day hikes near Franklin, NC, thanks to the forest’s abundant beauty, the trail’s moderate length and difficulty, and the mountain’s beautiful summit views.
Standing Indian Mountain is a scenic hike in any season, exploring a sun-dappled forest filled with moss, fern, and thickets of rhododendron. But it’s particularly beautiful when autumn paints the landscape in the vibrant, warm hues of fall. And, in any season, the hike is fantastic for soaking up some beautiful summit views, or an overnight adventure at one of the AT’s many campsites.
Standing Indian Mountain on the Appalachian Trail: the hike
The hike departs the Deep Gap Trailhead and parking area off the gravel-paved FS 71 near of Franklin, NC (view maps and driving directions), following the white-blazed Appalachian Trail northeast from the gap. The trail begins a nearly unrelenting climb to the summit, veering northbound under the canopy of the leafy forest. Fern and moss thrive on the sunlight-dappled, rocky forest floor.
The trail winds through switchbacks, continuing its climb and passing a wooden Nantahala National Forest sign at .5 mile. Veering southbound, the hike passes several campsites, first a smaller and then a large, level, multi-tent site alongside a small stream at .75 mile. The hike reaches a blue-blazed trail at just under a mile, following the spur trail 100 yards to the Standing Indian Shelter, a primitive overnight shelter for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
Returning to the AT, the hike resumes its climb, trailing through several wide switchbacks. The climb intensifies at 1.7 miles as the trail meanders through tight switchbacks, tunneling through an overhead canopy of gnarly-branched rhododendron. Sunlight filters through the leathery rhododendron leaves, basking the forest in golden light.
The trail straightens its course, exiting the thick thickets of rhododendron and running a ridge, catching through-the-trees views on both sides of the trail. Nearing the summit, the AT passes a junction with the blue-blazed Lower Ridge Trail on the left at 2.4 miles. (The Lower Ridge Trail drops a steep 4.1 miles to the nearby Standing Indian Campground.)
The route reaches a wooden ‘Standing Indian Mountain’ sign, veering right off the AT to hike a side trail through a group of near-summit campsites. The hike reaches the Standing Indian Mountain summit overlook at 2.5 miles. Beautiful views expand to the west, overlooking the headwaters of the Tallulah River, the same river that, south of the NC border, carves deep and cascades in a series of beautiful waterfalls in Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge. On the far horizon, Lake Burton is visible, nestled in the rolling southern Appalachian Mountains.
The view is gorgeous, especially when it’s painted in autumn’s brilliant leaf color. The overlook is a fantastic resting spot for a mid-hike snack, water break, or a simply great spot to soak up some outstanding outdoor beauty.
The hike departs the summit and flips to follow its outbound journey in reverse, trekking back to the Appalachian Trail and descending Standing Indian Mountain. The AT reaches the Deep Gap Trailhead at 5 miles, completing the hike.
Summit-worthy hikes near Standing Indian
In the area with daylight to spare? Hike the AT to the nearby summit of Albert Mountain, catching exceptional views from the mountain’s historic fire tower before descending to Mooney Gap. Southeast of Mooney Gap, hike the Pickens Nose Trail to an oddly-named mountain summit speckled with jagged, rocky peaks and some beautiful summit views. Or just south of Standing Indian, hike the Big Laurel Falls Trail to a cascading waterfall near the Appalachian Trail at Carter Gap.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free parking is available at the trailhead. Before you go, check for seasonal trail and road closures on the USFS Nantahala National Forest site.
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