One Trip Every Month: Cathedral of Trees

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” ~ Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

Of all the years we lived in Western North Carolina and hiked the trails surrounding us, we had never been to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, near Robbinsville. Encouraged by our son to explore this area as he has done, we did just that. Part of the Nantahala National Forest, this 3,800 acre tract miraculously escaped the lumbering of the 1920s which resulted in the clear-cutting of much of the surrounding areas.

The best way to see a woodland is to hike its trails. The one we chose is a two mile, figure eight loop that winds through one of the few remaining tracts of virgin hardwood forests in the Appalachians.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

The old heart got a work out after climbing steps that ran along the rushing creek.  It quickly leveled out to reveal that a few remaining rhododendron were still in bloom.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest- Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

Soon, we came to a boulder with a plaque centered on it commemorating the poet, Joyce Kilmer, for whom the forest is named. He was a World War I hero who died in France, and the forest was dedicated to him in 1935 by the US Forest Service.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

He is also author of the famous poem, “Trees”. Those of my generation surely must recall having to memorize this poem in grade school. The first two and last two lines are the most memorable. This plaque was at the entrance of the trail.


As Ron and I walked, we realized  we were whispering. When we encountered other hikers, which were few,  we exchanged whispered hellos. That is the effect the forest has. One of solitude, sereneness and quiet reflection.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-3

As we entered the area of giants, we marveled at the tulip poplars which are about 400 years old. The largest are over 100 feet tall and well over 20 feet in circumference. I have never visited the redwoods and the giant trees of America’s  west coast, so this is as close to large trees as I have been. I felt humbled and in awe.

Today, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is home to more than 100 species of trees, including virgin stands of sycamore, basswood, oak, and yellow-poplar. All the more important to preserve what we can of virgin forests. The canopy’s density blocked out the gorgeous blue sky and puffy white clouds of summer,  and then the woods opened back up to reassure us of a non-threatening sky. Because it  rained recently, the forest released its earthy aroma while mushrooms sprouted on the leaf laden floor.

Lacy ferns lined the edge of the trail, and large moss covered logs lay where fallen, maintaining a natural state.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-2

It was important to watch our footing as the trail changed from packed dirt to tree roots to large rocks. Watching one’s head was also in order.

High up in the tree canopies we heard the twitter of song birds but could not see them. They remained hidden in their lofty cathedral. And on the trail, the only sound we heard was our own breathing and footsteps. No creatures of the forest made their presence known that day. Perhaps they were watching us instead.

One tree we noticed was heavily carved into. Thankfully, it was limited to the one tree and not others, marring the natural beauty that Joyce Kilmer describes in his simple poem.

Finishing the figure eight loop trail, we crossed the bridge and watched the water gurgling and cascading over the moss covered rocks. Light dappled the area and children could be seen playing in the water.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest- Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

This was a lovely forest hike.  I felt we had the trail mostly to ourselves which only enhanced our experience of walking in this cathedral of trees.

One last look at the information kiosk before heading back to our family gathering at Lake Fontana.

Joyce Kilmer Nat Forrest-

Have you been on any hikes this summer? And where in this incredibly diverse world were they?

Do check out Marianne of East of Malaga for her One Trip Every Month Challenge.


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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37 Responses to One Trip Every Month: Cathedral of Trees

  1. silvana1989 says:

    great adventure!!! Hiking around park is the best!!! Hope you are good.

  2. Thank you, Sylvana. We are doing fine and I hope you are finding some lovely places to hike yourself.

  3. What a beautiful place this is! Thanks for the pics! Incidentally, my mother used to sing this poem to us. Be well.

  4. Elaine, thank you so much for the link. Am glad the pictures and poem brought back childhood memories for you. So good to hear from you.

  5. Beautiful photos, Lynne. We visited Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest one time. Like you, we didn’t live too far away from it, but had never been there. It does make you want to whisper…it’s a very special and sacred place for the trees. Ahhh…to be a tree.

  6. Well said, Debbie. It does have a sacred and reverent dignity about it. I’m glad we went.

  7. Such a beautiful poem! This makes me homesick for the old growth forests where I grew up.

  8. Beautiful – I would love to go for a hike there.

  9. restlessjo says:

    This serendipitous world! Just this morning I found this same poem on Jack’s Jottings (Pommepal’s husband- not sure if you’re familiar with? She had done a terrific post on a renewing forests project in Canberra and I followed her link. Well worth reading. Shout up for the link if you haven’t seen it)
    Anyway, I love the poem, and I also love woods with rhodies in them 🙂
    Did you see my reply about Discover Walks, Lynne? There are 5 choices. Lucy Dodsworth at On the Luce is my Paris expert if you need any tips.

    • Thank you so much, Jo, for all the links. I will check them out. Ron has a photographic workshop in Paris and we are getting in couple of days early. A walking tour to begin with would be helpful. I will be the tag a long student.
      This poem seems to be so universal. I’ll check out Jack’ s post. You would love this Forrest. I almost submitted it for your Monday Walks. Your Montmarte Walk was fantastic.

  10. Lynne, North Carolina is one of the most glorious places to hike, and you captured it beautifully. We haven’t made it to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest yet – and now it just jumped to the top of the list thanks to your beautiful description. At this point, I’ll do anything to escape this Georgia heat~ 🙂 ~Terri

  11. Incredibly beautiful photos of this ‘cathedral of trees’, Lynne. Kilmer’s poem has long been a favourite of mine. My sister used to sing it, set to music, and I accompanied her on the piano. Thanks for the memories. 🙂

    • Am glad this brought back some musical memories. I had no idea it was sung until Elaine, Books Define Me (lives in South Africa) at the top of the comments, said her mother sang it to her. She sent a video link. I had no idea the poem had universal appeal. Take care. Before long you will be Florida bound. 🙂

  12. ilargia64 says:

    Wonderful photographies Lynne!!!! World is full of natural cathedrals!!!! Hugs!

  13. Thank you, Ilargia for your visit and comment. There are natural wonders all around us if we only take time to enjoy them and preserve them.

  14. Kan says:

    That was a lovely hike Lynne. Loved your photographs and words. That poem is beautiful.

  15. Madhu says:

    What a stunningly beautiful trail! I can imagine how humbling it must have felt under those gigantic trees. I have always loved Kilmer’s poem….your post brought it to life! Thanks for sharing Lynne.

    • It seems Kilmer’s poem is quite universal. There was definitely a reverence to this forest. Quiet, un littered and many shades of green, but those huge trees were quite something. Thank goodness they escaped the lumber industry of the time. Thanks, Madhu.

  16. vbholmes says:

    As always, your photos are gorgeous, Lynne. I particularly like the moss-covered log–such texture. Your description of walking the path conjures memories of childhood days spent playing in the woods along a creek near my home (nothing like the scale of the trees in your pix, however). Thanks for a lovely respite.

    • Am glad this hike brought back pleasant memories, VB. Not enough kids these days know what creeks and woods are all about. I loved the fallen logs, too. Ron was giving me photo lessons on shooting logs, lighting and composition. Paid off.

  17. Gigi Galore says:

    This is so lovely! I keep commenting and it keeps disappearing -argh! Apps, I say! I love this post! 🙂 It’s so beautiful! 🙂

  18. Hi Gigi. Don’t know where all the disappearing comments went. Must be in the woods somewhere. 🙂 Am pleased you liked this lovely old forest.

  19. Tahira says:

    What magnificent trees, Lynne! I am definitely put this on my “place to hike” list. Thanks for sharing!

  20. This pales compared to your California trip, Tahira. Those giant redwoods are on my list. Thanks for your visit.

  21. Amazing nature! Loved the picture of the winding wooden stairs…we’re planning to visit Muir woods and Marin headlands in San Francisco soon, now I’m looking forward to them even more:)

  22. Meir Woods sounds like a wonderful visit and hike. Have only seen documentaries . Natural beauty everywhere.

  23. What a lovely hike, Lynne. I can just feel the silence and the whispers of the trees. We have a lot of hikes like this in Virginia, but then the Virginia forests are not much different than North Carolina’s. One of the Fairfax County Middle Schools is named after Joyce Kilmer. I love that poem. 🙂

    • It was whisper quiet, unlike other hikes we have been on, Cathy. Joyce Kilmer seems to be well known and Virginia sure has its beautiful forests and areas of natural interest. Hope you find plenty of hiking opportunities while teaching in China.

      • Isn’t it wonderful you found this quietly beautiful hike? I’m glad I got to come along. 🙂

        I do hope to find a lot of great hikes in China, Lynne. We just went on a big one last Saturday that I already posted about. It was so long and there was so much to see that I had to divide it into two posts!

  24. The scenes from this beautiful forest and your mention of the “whispered hellos” among hikers reminded me of one of my favorite hiking spots in Heidelberg, Germany. Within a few moments I could leave my apartment in the city’s Old Town and escape to the beautiful forest. From one of the overlooks I could hear the tolling of the church bells below, even the music of the street artists, but I felt many miles away.

    Hope you and Ron are enjoying these last days of summer!

    • Those special places of retreat, I call them, and yet so close by. Have been getting ready for Paris for a two week trip. That is how we’ll be spending the rest of summer. Hope all is well with you both.

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