Is Nantahala a Temperate Rain Forest?

by | Nantahala National Forest

If you’ve visited the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala Gorge for hiking, and white water rafting with Carolina Outfitters, you’ve probably heard the term temperate rainforest in relation to the Nantahala River and the Nantahala National Forest. In this post, we will discuss what a temperate rainforest is and how the Nantahala Gorge and surrounding area is categorized as one.

lush green Nantahala temperate rainforest in NC

What is a Temperate Rainforest?

When you think of rainforests, places like the jungles of Colombia in South America or the Congo Basin in Africa might come to mind. Those are tropical rainforests. A temperate rainforest is basically a wet forest that gets up to 200 inches of precipitation a year in the form of heavy rain and fog from surrounding rivers and lakes. Though temperate rainforests are like tropical rainforests, they differ in that they tend to experience mild temperatures during the summer and winter months and can be found in North America, especially along the coastal regions. A temperate rainforest is lush in vegetation (especially mosses, ferns, and coniferous trees such as pines and hemlocks which can be found in the Nantahala National Forest). The dense and broadleaf vegetation makes the forest appear jungle-like. It provides habitats for small animals and a few larger animals and birds of prey.

moss covered log in temperate rainforest of Nantahala

What Makes the Nantahala Gorge a Temperate Rainforest?

When you hike in the Nantahala National Forest, you might feel as if you’re lost in a tropical forest, especially if it’s a hot day and an unexpected rainshower blows over. After the rain, steam rises from the vegetation creating a sauna-like environment. The forest floor is covered with ferns, dense foliage, moss-covered logs and you’ve seen more than a few pine and hemlock trees. Small animals scurry in the thickets, and you might hear the screech of an eagle or owl hunting its prey, or a bear moving through the bushes. To quote Guns N’ Roses, “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby!,” albeit a very different jungle than the one Axl Rose sang about. 

temperate rainforest with green ferns in Nantahala NC

The Nantahala Forest mostly experiences mild temperatures year round, rarely dipping below 30 or over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall can be heavy at times and moisture is also pulled from area lakes like Fontana Lake, Queens Lake, and the Nantahala Lake, along with the Nantahala River Little Tennessee River to add to a wetland environment. All of this adds up to a temperate rainforest and can be found right here in the Nantahala Gorge in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina.

nantahala river inside the temperate rainforest in NC

Rafting in the Nantahala Temperate Rainforest

The next time you go white water rafting with Carolina Outfitters, during the calmer sections of the river, notice the forest along the banks and see how it relates to a rainforest. When you hike, slow down and gaze at your surroundings, taking in all the things that make the Nantahala National Forest a unique mountain environment. Don’t hike it; experience it. I promise you won’t have to bushwhack your way through the forest (unless you get off the trail, and we don’t recommend that). 

Book your 2024 white water rafting adventure now with Carolina Outfitters and Carolina Ocoee


Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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