Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

A protected old growth forest named after the famed and beloved American poet and writer, Joyce Kilmer.

Located in the far corner of Western North Carolina, near Robbinsville, is an old growth forest named in honor of the American writer and poet – Joyce Kilmer. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is about 3,800 acres of forest located inside the larger Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness area of the Nantahala National Forest. It is one of the largest contiguous areas of old growth forest in the Eastern United States and does indeed contain some very old, large, and beautiful trees within its boundaries. Some of the trees are over 400 years old with a circumference greater than 20 feet. The forest is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit that is maintained in a very primitive state. The easy to moderate 2 mile loop trail will take hikers to the largest trees in the forest and is definitely something to experience while visiting the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

The Nantahala National Forest is the largest National Forest in the state of North Carolina spanning over 830 square miles; almost the entire Western tip of the state. It is a mountainous region with numerous rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and popular North Carolina attractions.

Joyce Kilmer, whom the forest is named after, was an American writer, journalist, and poet that lived from December 6th, 1886 to July 30th, 1918. He is best known for his short poem titled “Trees” which he wrote in 1913. The poem is a simple but elegant celebration of the humble tree:

I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest, Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear, A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.

It is quite possibly one of the most recognized poems in America. Joyce Kilmer’s life was cut tragically short as he was killed in action during World War One. The forest was created and dedicated as a memorial to Joyce Kilmer on July 30th, 1936.

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is located at the end of Joyce Kilmer Road in Robbinsville North Carolina. It is a beautiful ride to the forest mostly through protected wilderness areas and the Nantahala National Forest. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is about 12 miles West of Robbinsville. There is a large parking area along with picnic tables and restroom facilities.

You could just visit the forest and relax and have a picnic in the immediate vicinity of the parking lot; but to see the real beauty of the forest you need to set out on foot and hike the short 2-mile figure-eight trail.

The trail starts at the far end of the parking area and is well marked, has a number of informative sign boards, and is initially paved. After checking out the signboards for the latest trail information, head out on the obvious trail. The paved trail heading straight is the path most people take but you could start on the return trail on the right if you wanted to. We started our hike keeping straight along the path.

The trail immediately crosses Little Santeetlah Creek and then heads up some stairs into the wood. The trail is very well maintained with bridges over all permanent creeks. It is also very well marked and should be easy to follow. The lower loop is 1 and 1/4 miles and intersects the upper loop at a plaque placed in memory of Joyce Kilmer. While the lower section is a nice walk through the forest with beautiful trees and wildflowers, the large trees are all located on the upper loop which is only 3/4’s of a mile.

When you intersect the upper loop, once again, you could head out on either side so we took the left fork.

The trail continues to meander through the forest and fairly quickly you reach “Poplar Cove” where all of the giants are located. There will be no doubt when you reach this section of the forest as it will probably be some of the largest trees you have ever encountered. They are huge!

As you continue on the upper loop trail and “walk among the giants”, you can’t help but enjoy the enormous beauty that is all around you. Depending on when you visit, you may also enjoy any number of wildflowers that might be in bloom in addition to beautiful ferns that are scattered throughout the forest floor. This is truly a magical place in the North Carolina woods.

As the upper loop intersects back with the lower loop, follow the opposite side of the loop to complete your experience inside the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

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