Lower Bonas Defeat Route Map

Bonas Defeat (lower) Gorge

A trip through the infamous Bonas Defeat Gorge has been sitting at or near the top of my 'Must-Do-Hikes' List for quite some time now.  Its not that far from my house (perhaps 20 minutes) and the would-be route isn't all that long (say, 6-ish miles).  What had kept me away thus far was Bonus Defeat's fearsome reputation.  Speak of Bonas with hikers in the know and the tone often gets hushed and tinged with a bit of anxiety/excitement.  The gorge itself is located just to the north of Lake Toxaway and is formed by the Tuckasegee River as it drains from the dammed Tanasee Creek Lake above.  At around 500-feet in depth Bonas isn't a monster gorge but it is, regardless, still generally acknowledged to be home to some of the roughest terrain in the area, if not the entire region.    Also, did I mention there's no official trail through it?  Any would-be explorers to Bonas need to be comfortable with bushwhacking, wading rivers, and scrambling over and around boulders the size of small houses.  Sound like fun?  Yeah...I thought so too!!

It's no secret that much of the time I undertake my hiking adventures solo.  I know, I know its always safer to have a partner...but I really cherish the solitude of going off in the woods on my own, left to my own decisions and skill to complete whatever plan I have come up with that day.  Over the years I have become quite comfortable with solo hiking.  I feel my wilderness knowledge is such that, given a crises in the woods, I would in most cases be able to extricate myself from the situation or survive until help arrived.  Even so, there are places I WILL NOT GO...usually in places that involve high accident risks combined with remoteness that would prevent help from arriving, if it ever did.  Needless to say, Bonas Defeat Gorge qualifies on both accounts.  So, for the last couple years Bonus Defeat has been tantalizing me, tempting me, to damn the risks and come on out for a look.  I resisted for two years.  Then I was offered a free, 50-degree-blue-sky Saturday and my will power collapsed.  I could wait no longer, I was going to Bonus Defeat Gorge.

I first made a promise to myself that this would be purely be a reconnaissance-type hike.  No pre-determined goals for which I might feel bad if left incomplete, and NO TAKING UNNECESSARY RISKS because there would be opportunity in the future to come back with partners offering and extra degree of safety.  My plan was this...I would access the gorge from the Nantahala National Forest--Grays Ridge Access Point just off NC-281 north of Lake Toxaway.  From there I would descend to the banks of the Tuckasegee River and simply follow the river upstream into the gorge as far as good sense would allow.  Like I stated earlier, much of the route I took this day (with the exception of the trail down to the river) involved bushwhacking, stream-walking, a good deal of scrambling, and traversing of high exposed ledges.  I'm not one to usually puff my chest but I can say unequivocally that this is an EXPERT ONLY trek.  A fall from any of the ledges in the inner gorge likely means death or at the very least a very, very, very long wait for help (I didn't see a single other person the day I went).

So, all that said this was a pretty successful first-attempt at exploring Bonas Defeat Gorge.  I certainly learned quite a bit about what the terrain is like (just as gnarly as I was led to believe!).  Unfortunately I wasn't able to traverse the entire length of the gorge on this trip.   Only the lower half of the gorge.  You ever heard the phrase 'caught between a rock and a hard place'?  Well, as you'll see in the album that's exactly where I ended up.  I'll just let the pictures speak for me...

At long last, I present, Bonas Defeat Gorge!!!!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.224742, -83.020832

Route Type:  Lollipop                       Difficulty:  EXTREME  (Petzoldt Rating:  5.60 )

Mileage Hiked:  3.6 miles                  Hike Duration:  2:30

Trailhead Temp:  45'F                       Trail Traffic:  None!

Min. Elevation:  2,550'                        Max. Elevation:  3,000'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,000'                 Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  278'


  • Jon Shinn

    on June 15, 2021

    This hike is a tradition in my family and we have been doing it periodically for over 30 years. The stretch that Dan got stuck at is impassible within the gorge as far as I know. However, there is a steep trail up the embankment that takes you around that stretch in the woods. We always do the hike from the top down, and from that side, there used to be red paint on the rocks just above that section to alert you that it is time to detour into the woods (the paint has faded but was still somewhat visible last time I went a few years ago). Again, this is from the top side but I'm sure you could find the side trail from below as well. You o ly have to stay on the woods for perhaps 50 yards or so to get around that one tumble of rocks pictured and the rest of the gorge is very doable without ropes. If you want to start from the top, the route we take starts at the farm that is down the hill (on 281) from the gate that is pictured here. You skirt the edge of the farm along the trees, and then cut through the trees and out onto the little finger of Mountain Farm Lane (see google maps of the area). From there, you walk down the road to the dam, cross over it and enter the gorge on the far side. At the bottom, the gorge turns into creek as pictured above. You walk in the creek for a while until you see the hydro station, then cut up onto the road and walk the few miles back up and out onto 281. Good luck! This is my favorite hike in the world and although you have to be adept at rock hopping and comfortable on this kind of terrain, it is certainly doable. My kids have done it as young as 10 and I have taken a good number of people down over the years without incident.

  • Walker Mims

    on May 22, 2018

    Thanks Dan, I was able to explore the lower part of the gorge taking the same route that you took but I did not make it quite as far. I was not able to rock hop very much but perhaps that was because of the recent rain and water levels. I made it past the beach and to the section where there are huge boulders that get increasingly steeper before I turned around. That terrain was so tough, glad I made it out safely. One of the photos you took was really beautiful and I was trying to find that place. It is the photo with the description : "This...could be a problem. There was no way I was going to be able to cross this...it was time to find an alternate route..." underneath the picture. Do you think I passes it or maybe I did not go far enough? It is possible that I walked around it I guess. Thanks and I really enjoy your adventures.

  • Dan Weemhoff (dwhike)

    on May 21, 2018

    Walker, I know of the sign you saw. From what I know it has been there for years and years, predating the access point that now exists. The old road down the river remains entirely within public land and is completely legal to walk. If you go again you can rest assured you are not trespassing.

  • Walker Mims

    on May 21, 2018

    I went down and parked at the little parking lot with a kiosk where you started from. After walking down the trail a bit I saw a sign that said "smile, a picture of you and your vehicle will be taken if you go any farther." Basically a do not trespass sign. I was under the impression that the area was Nantahala land. Did you see this sign? I didnt go past the sign :(

  • Dan Weemhoff (dwhike)

    on February 27, 2018

    I sure did Walker! About two months later. There’s an album up for that trip right below this one on my Nantahala page...here’s the link just in case...


  • Walker Mims

    on February 27, 2018

    Sounds like a great hike! I'm thinking about trying this spring. Did you ever get back and hike a second time? Also what time of year or date did you go? Thanks

  • Dave Kathy Weemhoff

    on March 10, 2016

    Impressive -- smart move to 'be smart' .......