Your Trail Quest in the NC Great Smoky Mountains begins with the Jackrabbit Mountain Trail System near Hayesville, NC. Opened in 2011, this system incorporates 14 miles of scenic trails through the southern portion of the lush and tranquil Nantahala National Forest. Although originally created with mountain-biking in mind, the trails are also open to hikers looking to lose themselves in nature.
Winding along beautiful Lake Chatuge in Clay County, the trails feature a main, central loop that can be easily navigated by even the most novice hikers and bikers. However, side trails split off the main loop to offer more challenging experiences, often leading to stunning ridgetop views and sandy beaches.
Open from May 1 to September 30, the Jackrabbit Mountain Trails offers a cool reprieve from the summer heat and crowded sidewalks in an unmatched paradise.
Exploring the Jackrabbit Trails
Hikers will find an easy, 2.4-mile trek on level ground through well-spaced trees that allow for glimpses of the sparkling and inviting Lake Chatuge. The open forest also means that more sunlight hits the path than on some other, denser tree-covered trails, so make sure your water bottles are full.
Insider Tip: There is a good amount of poison ivy along the trails, so you’ll want to wear something that covers your arms and legs.
Ride Your Bike
With a machine-constructed, single-track looped design, off-road bikers of all levels can work on their skills. And there’s no doubt legit “shredders” were involved in this design; Jackrabbit Mountain Trail actually offers “stacked” or successive loops, allowing more advanced riders to peel off onto side trails that require a higher skill set, like Burrell Cove, and longer stamina, like Central Loop.
Where To Stay
Sleep Under the Stars
The most obvious choice is to overnight at the Jackrabbit Trails Campground with 92 wooded sites, each with a firepit, picnic table and lantern post. Some sites allow RVs, although there are no RV hookups. Campers have access to hot showers, flush toilets, and drinking water, as well as a lake-side pavilion for picnicking. Campsite reservations are highly recommended, as same-day availability is not guaranteed.
The campground offers a plethora of day-use activities, including boating, swimming, fishing, and picnicking. Boats can be rented from nearby marinas, or you may launch your own craft from the boat ramp about .5 miles away. There is a clean and safe designated swimming area with a sandy beach and a separate fishing pier onsite. But most importantly, the trailhead for the Jackrabbit Mountain Trail System is located at the campground with a connector trail, so you can avoid the incoming and exiting cars and RVs.
About 30 minutes away, in Murphy, NC, you will find additional camping choices at Murphy Peace Valley KOA Campgrounds & Cabins on the Valley River, with deluxe cabins, RV sites, cable tv, internet, and tent camping. They also have a swimming pool, playground, pet play area, and game room. Or live in RV luxury on the riverfront at the Valley River RV Resort, featuring a clubhouse with a kitchen, Wi-Fi, grills, fishing, tent camping, outdoor pool, and a game room.
Resorts and Hotels
Also in Murphy is the Harrah’s Valley River Casino and Resort, featuring over 50,000 feet of gaming, a “multi-tainment” center, and luxury accommodations. You should also check out Mountain Country Cabins to find a vacation rental with cozy, romantic cottages for two or a cabin large enough for a family reunion.
Nearby Hayesville, NC offers accommodations for the more indoorsy folks. The Deerfield Inn has 20 spacious rooms with a view of the Smoky Mountains and Lake Chatuge. Each one comes with 2 queen-sized beds, cable TV with HBO, and a continental breakfast. Refrigerators and microwaves are also available for extended stays. The Hinton Center invites you to stay in their lodge or one of their cabins with views of and access to Lake Chatuge. Groups, individuals, and families are all welcome, but reservations are required.
How to Get There
Directions (courtesy of hikewnc.info)
The trailhead is located closest to the town of Hayesville, N.C., not far from either Murphy or Franklin on US Hwy. 64.
From Murphy, NC at US Hwys. 19-74-129:
Follow US Hwy. 64 East for 18.9 miles and turn right on NC Hwy. 175 South.
From Franklin, NC at US Hwy. 441:
Follow US Hwy. 64 West for 28.3 miles and turn left on NC Hwy. 175 South.
Go 0.9 miles and turn right to stay on NC Hwy. 175, crossing a long, one-lane concrete bridge over an arm of the lake. Go 2.5 miles and turn right onto Jack Rabbit Road. Bear left after 250 ft., staying on Jack Rabbit Road. The signed parking area is on the left after about 1/2 mile. The campground is straight ahead at the end of Jack Rabbit Road.
Header image: “Lake Chatuge” by atlnature is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .