Chattooga Headwaters and Whiteside Mountain

laurelknob In southwestern North Carolina, the Blue Ridge takes a steep rise at the 4000-foot Highlands Plateau just before tapering off into flat-lying South Carolina. A bold landscape of granite cliff mountains, including a 700 foot exposed cliff on Whiteside Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest, provide defying rock faces for experienced climbers and extensive scenery into Georgia and South Carolina for motorists and hikers. The high cliffs host a variety of rock-loving plants needing a high altitude, bare rock, and high rainfall to survive. Peregrine falcons, ravens, and wintering golden eagles frequent the cliffs above the Chattooga River, one of the few remaining free flowing streams in the Southeast. Two of the highest cliff faces east of the Mississippi River, Whiteside Mountain and Laurel Knob, frame the upper reaches of the Chattooga River.

Protecting Biological Diversity and Economic Vitality

Protection of land within this area will provide ecological connectivity surrounding the Nantahala National Forest and preserve scenic views from Whiteside Mountain, Devil’s Courthouse, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Land conservation within this sensitive area will sustain the area’s famed outdoor recreation and local economy, both highly dependent on the area’s natural resources and beauty. Tourism currently provides employees 1,800 people in Jackson and Macon counties.

Biological Diversity

The 33,000 acre Chattooga River watershed in North Carolina is dominated by the nationally significant Escarpment Gorges Macrosite. There are nationally and statewide examples of rare southern Appalachian bogs, northern hardwood forests, high elevation granitic domes, and high elevation rock summits. These communities support populations of 22 endangered and threatened species, including the peregrine falcon, green salamander, swamp pink, bog turtle, and the small whorled pogonia.

Cultural Heritage

This region was part of the heart of the Cherokee nation until 1835 when the New Echota Treaty eliminated Cherokee occupation and resulted in the Trail of Tears in 1838. Many of the places still bear the names of the Cherokee such as Tuckasegee and Chattooga. Settlers began to make their mark in the region by the early 1800’s with the first settlers in the Horse and Whiteside Mountain Coves and the Cashiers Crossroads by the 1830’s. Today the region is renowned for its magnificent views.

Economic Significance


This region has long been known for providing a high quality of life, first as a place for recuperation and later for seasonal residents as they recognized the beauty of the stunning views and open spaces. Tourism is the industrial engine for the region as visitors are drawn to its spectacular scenery, trails, beautiful waterfalls, fishing for native brook trout, and golf resorts such as High Hampton. These same visitors build homes driving a development based economy that threatens the very thing that attracts them to the region in the first place.

Since 1909, the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy have protected 780 acres in this focus area through land purchase, donation, and conservation easements. During that time, with $4.8 million of private funds, these partners have leveraged $625,000 from the North Carolina Natural Heritage Trust and Clean Water Management Trust Funds, and over $17 million of donated interests in land to total nearly $22 million of land value conserved. While portions of this landscape are protected by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Nantahala National Forest, significant portions are at risk for development. The upper portions of the Chattooga Watershed are almost completely unprotected.

The North Carolina State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), Natural Heritage Inventory, and other data sources are being used to set priorities for land and habitat protection. This portion of the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion contains 44 occurrences of 18 different ecosystems that are candidates for preservation. Nearly 30% of these are not protected and 25% of the known occurrences of threatened and endangered species are not protected. They need to be protected before they succumb to the pressures of development.

Leave Your Legacy

There are few ways that you can leave a greater legacy than through land conservation. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to preserve the magnificent landscape of the Chattooga River and Whiteside Mountain. Each donation brings us one step closer to conserving this veritable Noah’s Ark for our great-grandchildren and beyond.


HCLT logo

Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust
PO Box 1703, Highlands, NC 28741


Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy
P.O. Box 2822, Hendersonville, NC 28793