Heading to the mountains during summer means it’s time for trails galore, and Franklin delivers! Whether you’re looking for a fun family outing that’s easy on the kids or a truly challenging trek with backpacks and tents, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re looking for around these parts.
Here are 9 trails in a 45-minute drive or less from downtown Franklin! Difficulty level is ranked by AllTrails.com, and all distance measurements are round-trip.
Little Tennessee Greenway
Easy | 6.4 miles | 4 min drive
If you’re looking for the absolute best place to take the kids, check out the Little Tennessee Greenway. There are several entry points scattered throughout town, so if the six-and-a-half miles are too much, you can always pick a spot and walk as far as you like. Bring the bikes, the pets (on leashes), or a picnic—and be sure to check out the Wesley Park playground!
Easy | 1.4 miles | 44 min drive
Pickens nose is well worth the extra drive time, and not just because of the silly name that will keep your kids giggling for the whole trip. The view is absolutely stunning after a half-mile hike uphill, which is just enough to make you feel like a mountain explorer without having to break out the boots.
Wayah Bald Tower
Easy | 4 miles | 46 min drive
The kids are going to love this one; the Wayah Bald Tower is an old stone fire tower perched at 5,342 feet elevation with a massive 180-degree overlook. You can see as far as the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee all the way to the foothills in Georgia!
Rufus Morgan Trail
Medium | 1 mile | 28 min drive
The terrain is a bit more challenging, but for explorers who love chasing waterfalls, this trail is for you! The Rufus Morgan trail is also prime bird-watching territory, so be sure to grab a camera and a sketchbook. Leashed dogs are also welcome!
Medium | 4.1 miles | 9 min drive
Trail runners, get excited! The Bartram trail is a gorgeous rising-and-falling trail dotted with waterfalls that runners seek out. Climb all the way to the summit for a glorious view at William’s Pulpit. It’s also great for more adventurous kids and leashed pups, too!
Medium | 10.1 miles | 23 min drive
Get ready to feel delightfully lost in a forest wonderland. The trek is a bit longer than most we’ve covered so far, but you’ll truly feel like you’ve wandered into a fairy realm. Ready your backpack and your camera—and maybe even some camping gear—for a truly nature-rooted experience.
Expert | 4.9 miles | 42 min drive
Deep Gap is a great catch-all trail. Whether you want to spot wildlife, set up camp, or get some trail running in with your dog, the 5-mile round trip is a great balance between being challenging and also accessible for different goals.
Winding Stair Gap
Expert | 9.4 miles | 15 min drive
Want to conquer a section of the Appalachian Trail without getting whisked away to Maine? Winding Stair Gap is just the thing. The entry point is right on US 64 with convenient parking at the base. Take your pups on a leash and get ready to take plenty of floral photos!
Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap
Expert | 13.8 round trip | 42 min drive
Start at Wayah Bald Tower and prepare for an expedition! Hikers who want to backpack and camp along the trail are in for a treat between Wayay Bald and Tellico Gap. You can even bring Fido on your journey! For adventurers who want to undertake the almost-14-mile round trip in one go, we salute you—that’s an undertaking!
Its just about time for the kids to head back to school, but before your daily routine turns into bagged lunches and carpools, pack the kids up and head to the mountains for a quick weekend getaway to end Summer with a bang.
Franklin is the perfect weekend get-a-way as it is just a few hours from Asheville, Knoxville, Charlotte, and Greenville and with endless activities for the whole family, its a great way to have one final relaxing weekend before getting back into the swing of things.
The Little Tennessee River is a 135 mile stretch of water that flows right through the heart of Franklin with access points all along the river, there are numerous opportunities for a quick dip or a day’s trip seeing Franklin by boat. Franklin’s business community has grown to cater to the asset of the river so you can rent a tube or boat at Primitive Outback in Otto or rent a stand-up paddle board from Outdoor 76 on Main Street and explore the Little Tennessee.
2) Gem Mining
After all, Franklin is the Gem Capital of the World, so what better way to see all the town has to offer than to stop in at any one of Franklin’s dozen gem mining shops to try your luck at finding some authentic mountain gems. Mining for ruby and sapphire began in Macon County in 1870.
3) Take a hike!
Franklin sits right off the Appalachian Trail making it an ideal location to get some mud on your boots and get lost in the woods. Franklin has hiking for all experience levels ranging from short .3 miles just out side of town to day hikes that can turn into a camping trip such as the Standing Indian Mountain Long Loop. Franklin is known for a trail town and the businesses and locals alike are natural pundits when it comes to steering you in the right direction.
4) Take in a show
The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts is in the middle of their summer line ups and still have a full schedule of gospel greats, country favorites, and world class tribute acts slated for the Summer. Before a night of entertainment at the center, stop into the Factory of Franklin and let the kids try out the newly opened trampoline park to burn off some energy.
Nothing screams summer in Franklin more than the annual BBQ festival held at the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center. This year’s two day event is scheduled to kick off on August 12 and makes the eight annual festival and will feature authentic, mouth-watering BBQ, live entertainment, a car show, crafters and tastin’ tent!
Whether you’re planning a day adventure, a weekend escape or a week’s vacation in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Franklin has plenty on the schedule to keep the whole family entertained and happy this Summer.
Calling Franklin, North Carolina the Gem of the Appalachians maybe a bit cliché, as the word play has been used far too many times in reference to her abundant mineral deposits; however, cliché aside, I’m in the camp believing she is the gem of the Appalachians. It’s not solely for her mineral offerings; in fact, those offerings pale in comparison to the true rarities, treasures and secrets that lie and have lain beneath the dark soil of Franklin, adding greatly to Franklin’s mystique and reputation. A fine example of Franklin’s being a vault of secrets occurred in the hot summer months of 1898. Attempting to beat the Southern heat, several teenagers were swimming in the Little Tennessee River, nearest the edge of the ancient Nikwasi Mound. One child called out, after careful examination of something he’d seen sticking out of the earthen bank along the river, “Guys, I think I’ve found a skull!” The other teens, with wide eyes, and having found some sticks to dig with, began digging around the alleged skull. After several hours, and after running home for shovels, the teens placed on display their finds. Three entire, and intact human skeletons. Two of the skeletons were nothing but bone; however, the third was still wrapped in a rotting garment of some type. Not only that, a portion of a leather strap still crossed the chest of the skeleton and a piece of what appeared to be a hat still clung to his boney forehead. More shocking still, upon the strap and the hat were two different pieces of metal, both with a still-visible, carved name.
“His name was Danyl Crayne!” One of the kids called out.
The skeletal remains were carefully locked away until the year 1919, when a collector purchased them. His research and the later research of others identified Crayne as having been a Lieutenant in the British Army during the French and Indian War era. He’d been pronounced missing in action, after telling his men that he alone was going to speak with the Cherokee chief at Nikwasi.
The scenes that played out in the 1760s during and after the bloody French and Indian War were often set in Franklin, and many natives and Europeans lost their lives along Franklin’s winding rivers and deep in her vast wilds.
About the author:
Gregg Clark is a native of Macon County, North Carolina. He holds a BA in Professional Writing and a Master’s Degree in teaching English. He’s currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Executive Leadership at Lincoln Memorial University. He teaches English and History at Macon Middle School and he and his wife, herself a third-grade teacher at Iotla Valley Elementary, own and operate Where Shadows Walk, Historic Ghost Tours of Western North Carolina. They have three wonderful children: Erika, Aaron and Shade. Clark currently operates tours in Franklin, Bryson City and Sylva, North Carolina. 2016 will find tours in Highlands and Waynesville as well.