North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures
Help Protect the Vulnerable Wildlands of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests

Bluff Mountain

Bluff Mountain

Approximate size: 5,862 acres

Old Growth Acreage: 68 acres

Location: Madison county, North Carolina, extending five miles southwest from Hot Springs; Pisgah National Forest, Appalachian Ranger District; and Cocke County, Tennessee.

USGS Topographic Maps: Lemon Gap, Spring Creek, Paint Rock, Hot Springs

Bluff Mountain lies along the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee and is a prominent landmark for both Madison County, North Carolina and Cocke County, Tennessee. The Appalachian Trail (AT) works its way across the top of Bluff Mountain and descends the mountain into Hot Springs. AT hikers know Bluff Mountain well and refer to it as the “Gardens of Bluff ” for its profusion of wildflowers.

The Mountain Treasure area includes most of the mountain in North Carolina. The smaller Walnut Mountain, an adjacent Tennessee Mountain Treasure, includes portions of the western flank of the mountain. There are no roads to the top of Bluff Mountain, and the area never experienced industrial logging so the mountain remains remote and a haven for wildlife. Secluded coves on all sides of the mountain provide rich plant and wildlife habitat.

Red elder is an uncommon high elevation shrub that grows along the Appalachians. Photo by Lamar Marshall.

The mountain features striking rock outcrops, clear pristine streams, and waterfalls that add interesting highlights to the area. Bluff Mountain is very popular with hikers, nature enthusiasts, and hunters.

The area hosts rare species, notably excellent populations of Largeleaf Waterleaf. North Carolina recognizes a Natural Heritage area near Big Rock Springs. Steep slopes and cliff environments on the eastern side of the Mountain Treasure area could support rare plants dependent on this habitat. A verified old-growth site and at least four candidate old-growth sites are within the area. A Forest Service large old-growth patch covers much of the northern sections of the area, and small old growth patches are dispersed throughout the Big Rock Springs area.

The area is rich in trail access with the AT winding from southwest to northeast across the long dimension of the area. Other trails intersect the AT from both directions providing opportunities for shorter hikes.

A large timber sale was proposed in the area in the mid 1990s. The proposal sparked the formation of a broad coalition of groups and individuals who opposed this project under the “Don’t Cut Bluff ” campaign. As a result of this effort, including a petition, wide press coverage and considerable citizen involvement, the Forest Service drastically revised the timber sale. In the end, it targeted only 10 acres in the pristine portion of the mountain and the scope of the logging was designed to benefit wildlife and recreation, with a parking area and trailhead to provide better trail access in the Shut-In portion of the area.

The anti-logging campaign also gave rise to what has become an annual event, the Bluff Mountain Music Festival.

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