The forest anchors the larger 17,000-acre Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.
The largest trees can be found off the two-mile recreation trail inside the memorial forest, but solitude and pristine swimming holes lie deeper in the wilderness area.
Nearly 60 miles of trails traverse Kilmer-Slickrock, which has become a hot spot for backpackers. A three-mile hike to Wildcat Falls will deliver you to a backcountry swimming hole with nothing but hardwoods for company.
From the trailhead, hike down Big Fat Branch Trail for 1.5 miles to its junction with Slickrock Creek Trail. Then go right, following the shallow creek downstream for another 1.5 miles to Wildcat Falls, a series of small waterfalls that drop a total of 50 feet. The swimming hole is at the bottom of Wildcat’s last cascade as the river plummets 10 feet over a blunt boulder into a deep pool. Take the plunge from the rock next to the falls, or slip in from the shady bank. You’ll probably have the falls to yourself, but there’s always a chance a Boy Scout troop will stumble upon you, so keep the suit on.
Distance: 6 miles Round-trip
To Navigate: From Robbinsville, take N.C. 129 north for 13 miles to Forest Service Road 62. Turn left across the Cheoah River and follow FS 62 for seven miles to Big Fat Gap trailhead.