Stecoah Gap is about seven miles to the northeast of Robbinsville, NC, along Highway 143, which is known locally as Sweetwater Road.
This picturesque spot serves many purposes. There are two sturdy picnic tables a few steps away from the small parking lot.
The view northward is spectacular. At times you can see Fontana Lake (named from the Italian word for "fountain").
Birders, wildflower lovers, hikers, picnickers and less normal people will enjoy their moments of solitude -- punctuated by traffic speeding by -- and communion with nature at Stecoah Gap.
For Appalachian Trail hikers who are just passing through the overlook heading into the Nantahala National Forest, there is much to look forward to along the way. If, however, you're looking for an easy hike after a big meal with a toddler or two in tow, think again.
The trail from Stecoah Gap is strenuous -- northbound and southbound -- with 6-8% grades in both directions.
Heading southbound, you're 13.6 miles from Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), near Wesser, NC.
The Sassafras Gap Shelter is a mere 6.7 miles away, so you'll have a place to rest if you get weary.
Setting your sights on NOC will keep you going. NOC is a heavenly spot, complete with riverside dining, every hiking and camping gizmo ever devised, hot food and safe shelter.
Treat yourself to a tube ride downriver to cool off and relax.
The northbound trail has been graciously marked by an Eagle Boy Scout named Nick Harris. His 2010 project was the stairway leading to Fontana Dam.
The 15.4 mile trek to Fontana Dam isn't trivial, but when you get there, you might remember seeing it in the 1993 movie, The Fugitive.
The Appalachian Trail traverses Fontana Dam, the highest dam in the eastern U.S.
At 8.4 miles, you will arrive at Cable Gap Shelter, built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1939 and renovated almost 50 years later in 1988.
The famous Fontana Hilton shelter is 14.7 miles from Stecoah Gap. You'll find a restroom, water and room for up to two dozen of your favorite friends and strangers. Showers are just a half-mile away at the Fontana Dam Visitors Center.
When I arrived at Fontana Dam I wondered how this group of college students could have possibly recognized me (I was wearing my motorcycle helmet). I finally realized they recognized Grasshopper, the humble ninja, not me.
Plan a trip to Stecoah Gap -- the perfect spot to offer Trail Magic to weary hikers or as a starting point for your next pilgrimage on the Appalachian Trail.
May you find as many smiling faces as I did one bright sunny day.
You'll find a few more pictures below.
Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, News, and Robert Sutherland Travel Writer