For an extra treat when you get back to the entrance of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, take a left on Joyce Kilmer Road. Follow the winding paved road for five plus miles to the end of the pavement. This is the Maple Springs overlook, park your vehicle and follow the wooden observation deck to the grand view overlooking the Slickrock Creek basin, it is spectacular.
After a couple of hours wandering around a heavily shaded forest, seeing the overview of Slickrock Wilderness is quite astounding. Lake Santeetlah can be seen from the deck, the Little Santeetlah Creek watershed feeds into the lake’s crystal blue waters.
At the picnic area next to the overlook deck, is a rock formation along the edge of a natural drop off. The large stones and boulders are quite interesting, their flat narrow shapes stand upright, gathered across large boulders creating an interesting atmosphere at this natural overlook. The age of these mountains are astounding when you notice the evidence of time on these boulders.
This section of highway going to the Maple Spring Overlook was originally constructed as the beginning of the Cherohala Skyway which was started in the 1960’s. The construction of this route was halted when the Slickrock Wilderness was officially designated a wilderness, with the passing of the 1975 Wilderness Act. The Cherohala Skyway was rerouted at the opposite end of Joyce Kilmer Road.
You can access the completed Cherohala Skyway by following the Joyce Kilmer Road back past the entrance to the memorial forest and continuing on another couple of miles until the road ends and NC 143 begins. A right turn towards the west will put you on the skyway.
Completed and dedicated in 1996, the Cherohala Skyway provided a much needed link over the Unicoi Mountains from the Tennessee River Valley and Cherokee National Forest to the western North Carolina Nantahala National Forest. The name Cherohala comes from combining the names of the two forests. The skyway connects the towns of Tellico Plains, in Monroe County Tennessee and Robbinsville in Graham County North Carolina. This scenic mountain byway also links the Tennessee River Valley with the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Slickrock Wilderness Area.
It’s a two-hour trip with spectacular views of the Unicoi Mountains, the Tennessee River Valley and on clear days the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many overlooks show a wilderness at its finest with numerous trails and natural mountaintop balds that are easily accessed from parking areas, Most overlooks have picnic areas with only one or two locations for restrooms along the entire route. No commercial services are available along this 50-mile scenic byway.