Whiteside Mountain – one of North Carolina’s lesser known natural attractions – is in the Nantahala National Forest, between Cashiers and Highlands, and easily accessed off U.S. 64. The mountain’s western slope has the highest sheer rock cliffs in the Eastern United States. The granite cliffs, embedded with quartz crystals, reflect the sunlight, so there’s no question as to how the mountain got its name. It’s a great destination for both the casual outdoorsman and the hardy adventurer.
From Charlotte, Whiteside Mountain is roughly 165 miles, about a 3 1/4-hour drive.
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Although the mountain tops out at an elevation of 4,930 feet – and 1,000 feet above the Chattooga River – the walk to the top is comparatively easy.
Shortly after leaving the parking lot, the trail forks. Bear to the left. This trail is wide, and the ascent is gradual and not nearly as demanding as many mountain hikes. The trail to the right is steeper and involves steps and switchbacks, making it the preferred way to come down the mountain. The path leads through a forest of northern red oak, hemlock, yellow birch and red maple. Depending upon the season, hikers can be on the lookout for a variety of wildflowers and plants as they make their way up. Once the crest has been reached, however, it’s all about the panoramic vistas. To say that the views from Whiteside are stunning seems an understatement.
There are nearly a dozen excellent vantage points along the crest of the two-mile loop trail. Each offers a different perspective on the forested landscape below, Holly Berry Lake, nearby mountains Chimney Top, Terrapin, Little Terrapin, and Blackrock, and the more distant mountains that form the horizon. A pretty place to visit in spring, summer, and early fall, there’s no better time to be here than in mid-October, when leaves are in full color. The experience would be well worth a high admission price, but there’s actually no charge at all to hike the trail; there is, however, a very modest fee to park your car at the trailhead.
Whiteside Mountain is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. In 1985, peregrine falcons were successfully reintroduced to the mountain. It’s easy to spot these raptors in flight, perched on outcroppings, or nesting on the exposed rock faces.
Allow yourself at least two hours to walk the trail and enjoy the views. After trekking Whiteside, make another short trek west to Highlands. This charming mountain town is a haven for tourists – plenty of eclectic shops and restaurants. Other attractions include a small nature center and three close-by waterfalls: Glenn Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls.