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Nantahala National Forest Celebrates 100 Years Today

Lilly Knoepp
Dry Falls is in the Nantahala National Forest near Highlands. It's on the Cullasaja River.

Today is the Nantahala National Forest’s 100th birthday! The forest was established on January 29, 1920 by President Woodrow Wilson. 

Nantahala is the largest of North Carolina’s four national forests with 531,148 acres. It includes the Appalachian Trail and the Bartram Trail, which follows the path of early naturalist William Bartram.  The highest peak in the forest is Lone Bald in Jackson County at 5,800 feet and the lowest elevation is 1,200 feet in Cherokee County along Hiwassee River.

Some of its other famous features are Whitewater Falls near Cashiers, which are the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains, and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, which boasts 400-year-old trees. 


According to the National Forest Service, the forest was established under authority of the 1911 Weeks Act which gave the authority to acquire lands for national forests to “protect watersheds, to provide timber, and to regulate the flow of navigable streams.” Initially the forest included lands in Georgia and South Carolina as well but it was reorganized to follow state boundaries in 1936. 

Nantahala and the nearby Pisgah National Forest attract more than 5 million visitors each year. The forests are next  to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park which just set a new record  hosting 12.5 million visitors in 2019.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.