The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is one of the country’s most impressive remnants of old-growth forest. The forest contains magnificent examples of more than 100 tree species, many over 400-years-old, and some more than 20 feet in circumference and 100 feet tall. The forest is part of the Joyce Kilmer-Slick Rock Wilderness and is maintained in its primitive state. This 3,800-acre forest was set aside in 1936 as a memorial to the author of the poem “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer, who was killed in action in France during World War I.
If you’re looking for an easy, family-friendly hike in the woods, then look no further than the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Robbinsville. Take this two-mile hike to see poplar, hemlock, red and white oak, basswood, beech and sycamore. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is home to some of the oldest and largest trees to be found anywhere east of the Mississippi. The forest is a rare example of an old growth cove hardwood forest, an extremely diverse forest type unique to our area of the Appalachians. Home to poplar, hemlock, red and white oak, basswood, beech and sycamore, some of the trees are more than 400 years old and rise to heights of over 100 ft. and have circumferences of up to 20 ft.!
The Plight of the Hemlocks
Unfortunately, hemlock trees in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest have become infested with a non-native invasive insect pest, the hemlock woolly adelgid. This aphid-like insect feeds on the hemlock’s sap. To enhance safety while hiking, forest rangers have felled many dead trees. As this is a wilderness area, the trees were taken down in a way that mimics the effects of wind or ice storms. Explosives were used to bring down the dead hemlocks instated of saws, so they appear to have fallen from nature’s forces. The stumps and logs were not removed, but left to decay naturally. You will see several large dead hemlocks still standing.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is located about 15 miles from Robbinsville in the western part of Graham County adjacent to Lake Santeetlah. From Robbinsville, take Highway 129 north for 1.5 miles to the junction with Highway 143 west (Massey Branch Road). Turn left and proceed west on Highway 143 for approximately 5 miles to a stop sign. Turn right onto Kilmer Road. You will drive for about 7.3 miles and arrive at the top of Santeetlah Gap and the junction with the Cherohala Skyway. Bear to your right and continue on for another 2.5 miles to the entrance of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Turn left into the entrance and it is about 1/2-mile to the parking area. There are picnic tables, grills and restrooms.