The forest is vast and timeless. A pocket of water in an ancient rock reflects trees that have stood here since before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Creator and creation together invite wayfarers to pause in their journey long enough to see what Joyce Kilmer saw: that “Only God can make a tree.”
Outside Robbinsville is a 3800 acre tract of virgin forest that is dedicated to hero and poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer, author of “Trees.” Mr. Kilmer had been a teacher and a writer for “The New York Times” before he was killed in action in France during WWI.
Logging had denuded much of the forest in the Little Santeelah Creek area by the 1920’s and the damming of the Little Tennessee River flooded the railroad used to haul logs out, so the Babcock Land and Timber Company began looking for more land. A huge fire destroyed thousands of acres of timberland, leaving the future Kilmer Forest a lone stand of hardwoods in a plain of stumps. The land changed hands several times, but was never logged. In 1935, the Forest Service designated this tract of old growth trees as the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
A 2 mile figure eight trail winds through trees in various stages of growth, from seedling to giants with a 20’ girth to the fallen and decaying. Once you hike through the laurels at the beginning of the trail, the rest of the walk is level and free from underbrush. Several creeks cross the path on their way down the mountain. Artists and photographers will find inspiration among the towering trees and the tiny moss. Early morning has the most dramatic lighting, but noon has the most direct sun making its way down between the trees. I recommend not carrying more equipment than necessary as the first part of the hike may be tiring on those who are not in shape.
Directions from Franklin: 28 north 33 miles; left on Hwy 143 west to Robbinsville; follow signs to Joyce Kilmer Forest