The summit of Satulah (4,543 feet) is classified as a heath bald. From here the visitor can view the mountains of three states. Ascending the trail, one first encounters a forest comprised of northern red oak, white oak, and chestnut oak. At the first switchback there begins a remarkable stand of mountain pepperbush overhanging the trail. Both chinquapin and witch hazel are common shrubs here. Soon hikers pass into a stunted, virgin oak forest. At the trail fork, go right. As one approaches the summit, the forest becomes heath (rhododendron) with stunted white oak. At the summit are scattered, dwarfed white oak, some 200 years old.
This is a zone with dwarfed pitch pine where a 200-year-old tree may be only 10 inches in diameter. The first purple rhododendron is encountered along with the first pines. Chinquapin is abundant.
The summit provides the best look at unusual plants growing only on the bare granite rock so characteristic of the cliffs of this area and extending into Georgia only on similar cliffs along the Chattooga headwaters. One of the most fascinating, the twisted hair spike moss, forms large, thick mats on the upper cliffs. Another, sand myrtle, grows only at the outer edge of the ground cover extending onto the rocks. A rare juniper forms low-spreading, wind-pruned growth. Exploring the summit, one can find curious potholes, the basement of a former fire tower, and patches of soil forming in moist depressions in the naked rock. Often on other outcrops, the niche of the pitch pine is filled by the rarer table mountain pine, and hemlocks might include the rare Carolina hemlock. In the spring the evergreen heaths on these balds present unequaled wildflower displays. The mountain summit is protected and offered for public use and education by the Satulah Summit and Ravenel Park, Inc.
Directions: From downtown Highlands, turn south on NC 28 and proceed up Fourth Avenue to Satulah Road. Park, with permission, in the rear section of Nick's Restaurant parking lot at the intersection of Satulah Road and South Street. Follow the Satulah Summit signs, bearing right at the fork. Walk about .5 mile to the end of the pavement and continue another .3 mile to a set of steep wooden stairs just before the road dead-ends into a gated private drive. The stairs begin the trail to the summit. When the trail forks, take the right fork.
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