Drive to Trailhead & Trail Guide - Stratton Bald via Wolf Laurel. W4C/WM-020

The best map is a National Forest Service paper map titled “Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness and Citico Creek Wilderness” subtitled “in the Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests”. Mine 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 from Huckleberry Knob

  • Duration: 0:50 (0:15 from Huck Knob TH to USFS-81; 0:35 from Skyway to the Wolf Laurel TH via USFS-81 and USFS-81F)
  • Google Maps URL from Huckleberry Knob parking: (does not cover ~ last mile):
  • Seasonal/Limited Access: Road may be closed late December to mid-March.
  • Drivable in passenger car. There’s a big sign that says “Not suitable for passenger cars” at the start of USFS-81. I drove it after 3+ dry days; it could be tough when muddy.
  • Directions:
  • Head SW on Cherohala Skyway (turn R out of parking lot) and go 6.8
  • R on Old Santeelah Rd and go 0.1.
  • Straight on USFS-81 and go 3.9
  • Hairpin L on Wolf Laurel Rd (USFS-81F) and go about 4.8.
    • USFS-81F has signs: “Swan Cabin”, “Wolf Laurel Trailhead”.

Drive Guide from Atlanta

  • Duration: 4:15
  • Google Maps URL from Atlanta (33.917, -84.3378): (does not cover the last few miles)
  • SOTA Extra Info Page:
  • Seasonal/Limited Access: Road may be closed late December to mid-March. Reportedly drivable in passenger car.
  • Directions:
  • Note: Google maps thinks USFS-81 ends before the trailhead. It extends a mile or so more than Google knows. Google thinks it ends near Fork Ridge. The USGS quad shows it extending up to Wolf Laurel Basin.
    • I-285 W
    • I-75 N
    • I-575 / GA-5 N and go 72 miles
    • L on GA-5 N in Blue Ridge, GA and go 10.2
    • L on GA-60 / TN-68 and go 36.4
    • Careful: TN-68 forks left in about 13 miles. I missed this fork in March of 2014.
    • In Tellico Plains, R on TN-165/Cherohala Skyway. Reset odometer.
      • At 23.8 miles, you’ll cross the TN/NC state line.
      • 0.2 afterward, there’s a paved parking lot on the left at 35.34518, -84.03546. This is where you would park for the Beech Gap route.
      • Pause in the parking area to enable route trace on your GPS, to save this route for your files!
      • Continue about 1.3 miles. Watch for N. River Rd.
        • If you can, turn L on N. River Rd (35.33671, -84.03121) and immediately L on USFS-81.
        • Otherwise, continue 0.2 past N. River Rd, turn L on Old Santeelah Rd (a.k.a. USFS-81)(35.33657, -84.02831) and go 0.2 and continue onto USFS-81.
    • Go 3.7 on USFS-81.
    • Hairpin L to USFS-81F (a.k.a. Wolf Laurel Rd) (35.34686, -83.98784 ) and go 4.9 to gate (Wolf Laurel trail parking).
    • On the 2011 “Santeelah Creek” USGS quadrangle, Stratton Bald is in the upper left corner. Southeast of the bald is “Wolf Laurel Basin.” There’s a road which runs east from “Basin”. You’ll park at the gate at the easternmost point on this road.
  • Food
    • Last McDonalds: Blue Ridge, GA, on the corner where GA-5 turns L
    • Penultimate McDonalds: Ellijay, GA, on L

Trail Guide

  • Duration: 1:20 up (1.8 miles; 830’ climb); 0:55 down
  • Navigation
    • Wolf Laurel Trail is on left, 40 yards before the road ends at the gate.
    • Follow Wolf Laurel Trail ~0.2 miles and turn L at the yellow Wilderness Area sign on Stratton Bald Trail.
    • Go about 1.2 miles (~750’ elevation gain).
    • Go L at Haoe Lead Trail which comes from the right.
    • The summit is an unremarkable point along the trail. Use GPS to locate it. There’s a nicer spot to activate from a few hundred feet farther along the trail, where a 25’ side trail leads to a flat rock in the ground and a view.
    • Stratton Bald isn’t bald. If you continue, you’ll come to Bob’s Bald, which is bald, and is a nice place to camp.
    • If you continue through Bob’s Bald and on another 1/4 mile, you’ll hear running water and see a short length of white PVC pipe on your right. This is your best bet for water.
      • There is an alternate source for water just off the top end of the clear bald. It was too cloudy for my taste, but it might be OK with a filter. After you enter the open bald, near its high point, turn to your left 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: 4558 (estimated)
  • Summit altitude: 5380’
  • GPS tracks/waypoints:
    • Trailhead = 35.36345, -83.98 (estimated)
    • Wolf Laurel Trail intersects Stratton Bald Trail: 35.36582,83.97737 (estimated)
    • Stratton Bald Trail meets ridge line (where you turn left for summit): 35.3751, -83.9892 (estimated)
    • Location of water pipe = 35.372028, -84.004334 (estimated)
    • Stratton Bald (per SOTAdata) = 35.37340, -83.99300

Summit Guide

  • Hang antenna from tree: Yes
  • Space to guy mast: Yes
  • Cell coverage: AT&T=no; VZN showed 2 bars on two phones, but no SMS success, despite multiple tries. APRS=yes

Plan-B Candidates

  • Huckleberry Knob (W4C/WM-011).