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The best views of Little Tennessee River are in the Needmore section, where the narrow road hugs the riverbed. The Nature Conservancy recently purchased this biologically important tract. The Little T, as the locals call the river, supports a number of rare aquatic species, including the Appalachian elktoe and the little pearly-wing, two federally endangered mussel species.

The Little T is the largest river that feeds Fontana Lake, which is not far downstream from Needmore. Another major stream flowing into the lake is Nantahala River, next up on this route. The Nantahala is the most popular whitewater boating river in the region. Drive through the eight-mile gorge in the middle of a summer day and you’ll be caught behind rafting buses ferrying boaters to the put-in and tourists gawking at boaters on the river. You’ll also share the road with hikers, bicyclists, trout fishers, and ordinary traffic, so slow down. Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), at the downstream end of the gorge, makes a good stop for lunch or outdoor supplies. As the largest and most popular of the many commercial outfitters for the Nantahala, NOC is a good choice if you want to join the fun on the river. If you just want to watch others shoot the rapids, stop at the large pullout just beyond NOC and walk back to the overlook of Nantahala Falls. As a Class III rapid, it’s the largest rapid on the commercial section of the river. It’s fun to watch the smiling sometimes terrified faces of the people going over the falls.

The route back to Franklin from Nantahala Gorge passes through Nantahala National Forest. Besides general mountain scenery, watch for waterfalls and views of Nantahala Lake. Wayah Bald, at the end of Forest Road 69, makes a nice side trip. The summit offers 360-degree views from the historic fire tower.

An abandoned truck slowly rusts in a fallow field in the community of Kyle.

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