Drive to Trailhead & Trail Guide - Stratton Bald via Beech Gap. W4C/WM-020

Note: The really good map for this area is a National Forest Service paper map titled “Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness and Citico Creek Wilderness” subtitled “in the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests”. My copy says it was “compiled” in 1987. The National Geograpic “Trail Maps” IOS application also shows the Wolf Laurel trail and Wolf Laurel Road (AKA USFS-81F, which is 2WD drivable to Wolf Laurel Basin).

Caution: Wear orange in hunting season (mid October to Jan 1).

Cool accommodations:

Drive Guide

  • Duration: 3:30
  • Google Maps URL from Atlanta (33.917, -84.3378):
  • SOTA Extra Info Page:
  • Seasonal/Limited Access: All seasons, all weather. You can drive it in a sports car.
  • Directions
    • I-285 West
    • I-75 north.
    • I-575 north.
    • GA-5 north.
    • In Copperhill, turn left on TN-68.
      • Careful: TN-68 forks to the left in about 13 miles. I missed this fork in March 2014.
    • In Tellico Plains, turn right on TN-165/Cherohala Skyway. Reset odometer.
      • At 23.8 miles, you’ll cross the TN/NC state line.
      • 0.2 afterward, park in the lot on the left at 35.34518, -84.03546. (There’s a real, paved parking lot. It has a low, rock wall between the lot and the road. The Benton McKaye trail is supposed to exit the lot on the north end (the end from which you were driving). In 2012, this section of the trail was closed. You’ll hike back up the skyway (northwest) about a tenth of a mile. There’s a gated road to your right. (The gate is up the road a bit.) This was our trailhead.
  • Food
    • Last McDonalds: Blue Ridge, GA, on the corner where GA-5 turns L
    • Penultimate McDonalds: Ellijay, GA, on L
    • Dinner

Trail Guide

  • Duration: 3:30
  • Navigation
    • Follow the trail along the state line. (It is a two-track dirt road.)
    • There’s a well-marked (in 2012) trail crossing in Cold Spring Junction, a couple of miles from the trailhead.
      • My memory is a little fuzzy here. There’s a cross-trail, the Benton McKaye trail ahead, and a trail ahead and to the right, and it climbs.
      • The trail ahead and right is the old trail, from before the Benton McKaye trail re-routed the Fodderstack trail.
      • You want the trail up and right. It runs up the ridge to the Stratton Bald trail.
      • One of the guide books refers to this trail as being left nameless when Fodderstack was re-routed.
      • When we were there, this trail had a metal post with “54A” on it. (It is #95 on some older maps, but 95 now continues straight, rather than going up+right.)
    • After lots of up-hill hiking, and duck-walking through rhododendron, you’ll come to “the Bob Tee,” with a trail running to your right, to Bob Bald and Stratton Bald.
    • Take the trail to your right. (The other trail takes you back down to Fodderstack/Benton at Cherry Log Gap.)
      • As you walk it, pay attention to your left. At about 0.1 mile, you’ll hear running water and see a short length of white PVC pipe. This is your best bet for water.
      • There is an alternate source for water just off the bald. It was too cloudy for my taste, but it might be OK with a filter. After you enter the open bald and climb to the very top, turn slightly to your right and there is a stand of green fir trees. In the hollow below the trees is the spring. You’ll find it as there are little side trails down to it.
  • Trailhead altitude: 4483’ @ road/trail leaves highway; 4450 @ parking lot
  • Summit altitude: 5380’
  • GPS tracks/waypoints:
    • Trailhead = 35.34868, -84.03820 (estimated)
    • Trail turns east = 35.35083, -84.03769 (estimated)
    • Trail junction. You go ahead and to the right, up the ridge = 35.35958, -84.01906 (estimated)
    • “The Bob T” = 35.37202, -84.00725 (estimated)
    • Guessed location of water = 35.372028, -84.004334 (estimated)
    • Bob Bald = 35.37091, -84.00104 (estimated)
    • Stratton Bald (per map) = 35.37339, -83.99297
    • Stratton Bald (per SOTAdata) = 35.37340, -83.99300

Summit Guide

  • Hang antenna from tree: Yes
  • Space to guy mast: Yes
  • Cell coverage: No. I couldn’t read a 2 meter repeater on my HT, but you might succeed with a beam.
  • Unique features:
    • You always freeze your tail off on Stratton Bald.

Plan-B Candidates

  • Huckleberry Knob (W4C/WM-011). Trailhead on Cherohala Skyway at 35.31387, -83.99093, just 8.9 miles further along the Cherohala Skyway.