- The Mountain Waters Scenic Byway is a 61.3 mile drive that winds through southern Appalachian hardwood forest, two river gorges, and rural countryside. Traveling from Highlands to Almond the Byway follows US 64, old US 64, SR 1310 (Wayah Road) and US 19. Part of this nationally recognized Byway coincides with two state scenic routes. Much of the Byway travels through the Nantahala National Forest. National forest ecosystems are managed for many uses: recreation, timber, wildlife, water, wilderness and more. At overlooks and side routes, you may see signs of forest management activities. Here is a sample of attractions along the route:
CULLASAJA GORGE: The first 7.5 miles of the byway travels through the beautiful Cullasaja Gorge. The winding road parallels the Cullasaja River and offers spectacular scenic views of the river and its waterfalls. A short road allows you to drive behind the thin "veil" of water falling from 120 feet.
DRY FALLS: You'll find this 75-foot beauty 2.1 miles west of Highlands on U.S. 64. From the parking area, a short paved trail leads you directly behind the waterfall.
CLIFFSIDE LAKE & VAN HOOK GLADE: Cliffside Lake Recreation Area is 4.4 miles west of Highlands and then 1.5 miles off U.S. 64. This area offers picnicking, swimming, fishing and hiking. You can camp nearby at Van Hook Glade.
WAYAH CREEK: West of Franklin, the Byway turns right on old U.S. 64, then left on SR 1310. SR 1310 (Wayah Road) parallels much of the 6-mile stream. The creek is a good fishing stream, but most of the streamside is private land and is posted "no trespassing." Along Wayah Creek is the Arrowood Glade Picnic Area. Wayah Crest Picnic Area is at Wayah Gap.
WAYAH BALD: A side trip to Wayah Bald is well worth the effort. From Wayah Gap, journey 1.3 miles up gravel Forest Road 69 and see the Wilson Lick Ranger Station. Built about 1913, Wilson Lick was the first ranger station in the Nantahala National Forest. Continue another 3.2 miles up Forest Road 69 to Wayah Bald. Take the short paved trail to the historic Wayah Bald Fire Tower. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's, the tower provides a great view of the southern Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, Tennessee and both Carolinas. You can picnic nearby at the Wayah Bald Picnic Area. Two long-distance trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail, cross the mountain at the tower.
NANTAHALA LAKE: Located about 6 miles west of Wayah Gap, this lake has 29 miles of shoreline and offers fishing and boating. Boat ramps are available.
NANTAHALA RIVER: This mountain river offers great trout fishing in its upper and lower reaches. The stretch of river above the powerhouse has excellent catch-and-release fishing from spring until early summer.
NANTAHALA RIVER GORGE: The river draws more than 250,000 boaters who enjoy whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking. Many people begin their trip from the Nantahala River Launch Site at the beginning of the 8.5 mile whitewater run, where changing rooms and flush toilets are available. About 2.75 miles down river is the Ferebee Memorial Picnic Area which provides another launch and takeout area. At the lower end of the Nantahala River, a commercial-only takeout and a private boater area are provided. From a wooden walkway, spectators get a thrilling view of the wild ride over the final series of rapids, including Nantahala Falls. Nantahala River outfitters, under Forest Service permit, can help plan trips to fit your skill level and provide any equipment you might need.
Recreation - Enjoy the panoramic views from Whiteside Mountain or Wayah Bald. A 2-mile loop trail to the top of the Whiteside cliffs, provides a spectacular view. Wayah Bald is especially beautiful in June when the azaleas and laurel bloom. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, with it's 400-year old trees, is another breathtaking sight. You can watch the bright array of rafters and kayakers splashing through Nantahala Gorge.
For the first 7.5 miles, the Byway travels through picturesque Cullasaja Gorge. The winding road parallels the river's most rugged course and offers scenic views of the river and waterfalls. If you stop at Bridal Veil Falls along the way, your car can get a natural car wash. The Nantahala is another river gorge that borders the Byway. The Nantahala River is a mecca for whitewater sports enthusiasts.
There are several trail offering pleasant excursions. The Rufus Morgan Trail is a 1 mile loop trail that winds through a mature hardwood forest to a waterfall. From SR 1310 (6.6 miles west of U.S. 64) turn left on FR 388 (Boardtree Road) and drive 2.2 miles to the trailhead.
The Cliffside Lake Trails are short trails just off the Cullasaja Gorge. Choose the easy .75-mile loop that circles the lake or enjoy the view from the ridge along the moderate 1.5 mile Cliff top Vista Trail.
Climate - The climate of the North Carolina mountains is temperate with moderately cold winters and warm, humid summers. Precipitation is fairly well distributed throughout the year; there are no wet or dry seasons. October has the least rainfall, July the most. Snowfall is quite variable from year to year, and some winters have relatively little. Thunderstorms occur most frequently in spring and summer but can occur in any month.
From Highlands to Almond, the route follows US 64, old US 64, NC 1310, and US 19 through Nantahala National Forest.