Serious outdoors lovers take note: The Fires Creek area—tucked away in the extreme southwest corner of North Carolina amid some of the most remote and pristine scenery in the eastern United States—offers varied opportunities for superb interaction with the natural world. Its more than 21,000 acres, which shelter abundant flora and fauna, are ideal for hiking, backpacking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, and fishing.
Leatherwood Falls is about 25 feet high and makes a pleasant picnic spot. In addition to the usual southern Appalachian hardwoods, six kinds of pine, hemlock, mountain laurel and rhododendron, ferns, and a dazzling array of wildflower species thrive here.
The Rim Trail, a roughly 26-mile loop, surrounds the Fires Creek basin, intersecting with other shorter trails along the way.. Although many more equestrians than hikers use the trail, backpackers could spend several pleasurable days exploring the loop. Camping is prohibited in designated wildlife openings. And, as always along ridgeline trails, hikers are advised to carry plenty of water. There is a dependable spring near the intersection of the Shinbone Ridge and Rim trails, about 100 feet below the rim, and several other springs that may require a longer detour to reach.
The most unusual geological feature in Fires Creek is the "bowls" or basins occurring atop Potrock Bald (reached via the Trail Ridge Trail from Bristol Horse Camp). Local legend says these unique depressions, of uncertain origin, were used by the Cherokee, perhaps for cooking. A similar (and more easily reached) formation is the Indian Wash Pot on the bank of Fires Creek near Leatherwood Falls. Supposedly, the Indians used it to heat water for bathing, though it's now filled in with leaves and debris.
Fires Creek is a designated bear sanctuary, and as development in surrounding areas limits their habitat, still more black bears will be driven into this protected territory. The rare Appalachian water shrew can be seen in the fast-moving, high-elevation streams, as can the southern pygmy shrew Other local fauna include all the small game typical of the area: squirrels, wild turkey (, white-tailed deer , and ruffed grouse , as well as both copperhead and timber rattlers. The pristine streams shelter native brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout. Among the many bird species here are numerous varieties of warblers, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers.
Beauty Scale:4 (1-worth seeing-10 awesome)
From Murphy, take US 64 East toward Hayesville. After about 9 miles, turn left at the green forest service sign (and Citgo service station) onto NC 1302. After about 4 miles, make another left (also marked) onto NC 1344. It's about 1 mile to Hunters Camp, and another .7 mile to the Leatherwood Falls parking area. About 5 miles farther on is Bristol Horse Camp.
Leatherwood Falls: picnic tables, grills. Hunters Camp: pit toilets. Bristol Horse Camp: camping, facilities for horses.
Parking, picnic tables and grills, restrooms, water.
Fees:There is a charge for some campsites.
Closest town:Hayesville, about 9 miles.
For more information:
Tusquitee Ranger District,
201 Woodland Drive,
Murphy, NC 28906.
Phone (704) 837-5152.
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