In her article ‘Celebrating 50 years of wilderness,’ May 26, 2014, Karen Chavez, news reporter for the Citizens Times in Asheville, North Carolina, listed six wilderness areas in Western North Carolina. All of these designated areas are the result of the Wilderness Act, approved by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on September 3, 1964.
Although each one of these wilderness areas are better known for hiking and backpacking they also provide excellent opportunities for paddlers. Following are the six wilderness areas mentioned in Karen Chavez’s article. Follow the links for paddling opportunities.
• Shining Rock. Established in 1964, it is the largest wilderness in North Carolina with 18,483 acres. Named for a rock outcrop, Shining Rock became one of the three original components of the National Wilderness Preservation System. It is separated by only a road from Middle Prong Wilderness to the southwest. It has five peaks exceeding 6,000 feet, including Cold Mountain, and popular hiking trails, including part of the Art Loeb.
• Linville Gorge. Established in 1964, it now has a total of 11,786 acres. From its headwaters on Grandfather Mountain, the Linville River runs through the steep gorge for about 12 miles. Highlights include Hawksbill, Table Rock and the Chimneys.
• Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. Established in 1975 on the border with Tennessee in Graham County. It now has a total of 17,394 acres. North Carolina contains about 13,562 acres and Tennessee 3,832 acres. The area is known for its giant old growth trees.
• Ellicott Rock Wilderness. Established in 1975, at the intersection of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. It now has a total of 8,274 acres. North Carolina contains about 3,394 acres, Georgia contains 2,021acres, and South Carolina 2,859 acres.
• Middle Prong. Designated in 1984 and now has a total of 7,460 acres. The wilderness rests on high ridges southeast of Richland Balsam. Elevations range from 3,200 feet on the West Fork of the Pigeon River to 6,400 feet near Richland Balsam. The Blue Ridge Parkway parallels the southern wilderness boundary.
• Southern Nantahala: Designated in 1984, it sits on the border with Georgia. It has a total of 23,473 acres, with about 11,900 acres on the North Carolina side. It is known for rugged backpacking trails, and contains 32 miles of the Appalachian Trail.