Trails with a View
SE TN, HWY 68 south from Sweetwater & I-75 to Tellico Plains, HWY 165 ALL the way to the NC state line, about 2 miles past state line turn left onto old Tellico-Robbinsville Rd, continue 4 miles until FS-81F, the road with the Wolf Laurel sign, on the left, continue all the way to end of gravel road (about 4.5 miles) to the signed trail head
These two places are just about the best places I have found anywhere. I'm including them together because they are close enough to each other to be enjoyed in one day hike. However, it is about a 12 mile day hike, so they can also be hiked separately. The best way to hike these two is to start at Wolf Laurel, hike to its end junction with Stratton Bald Trail, then take this trail up to Stratton Bald. Take a lunch break at Stratton Bald and backtrack to the intersection of the Haoe Lead Trail. Turn left and go down the Haoe Lead to Naked Ground, then keep going all the way to Hangover. There is a small trail change right before Hangover, but it's signed, and it would just confuse you to mention it. There are also a lot of trail intersections along this route, so you need to keep the map handy to make sure you stay on the Haoe Lead Trail (at least until the signs point you to Hangover). The hardest part of this hike is the pull from Wolf Laurel to the top of Stratton Bald. It seems like it will never end as you go up 3 different ridges where switch backs are a dirty word. But it does end, and it's equally confounding on the hike back, because the length of the trail seems further than you remember it. Don't worry, though, you won't miss the Wolf Laurel signed intersection, so keep going. It truly is amazing, though. Hangover has the best view in the world, because you can see lakes and the Smokies and just about anything you could want to see from the rock outcrop. And Stratton Bald is a clear bald with nice grassy spots for picnics and camping. BTW, if you look at a map, you'll see other ways that may look quicker to either of these sights, but don't be fooled. The TN (south) end of the Stratton Bald trail gets AWFULLY muddy, and that slows you down a whole lot. And the trails coming up from Joyce Kilmer to Hangover are AWFULLY steep, and those slows you down a whole lot. This area is a bear sanctuary, and among the first places the wild european boar was introduced in North America, so it's not at all for the faint of heart.
NE TN, HWY 19E from Elizabethton towards NC, turn right onto HWY 143 (follow signs in Roan, TN to Roan Mountain State Park), follow all the way to state line, Roan Mtn is on right, Round Bald is on left
This stretch of the AT would be my favorite trail if it didn't sometimes get crowded. Before starting, take a drive up to Roan Mtn and hike the short trail out to the overlook at the end of the loop. There is also a trail at the signed parking area that criss-crosses the bald. This is a nice place to see in June when the flowers are blooming...it's also crowded. It's a nice place to see any time of the year, too, because it's over a mile in elevation, and it has a very Canadian air about it. The high altitude pines are very inviting. Unfortunately, the forest service has started charging a $2 parking fee at Roan Mountain. I REALLY resent this, and I've pretty much begun a boycott of all parking areas that charge a fee. If you want more info and if you'd like to voice your opinion on the new fee stations that seem to be popping up everywhere then check out the story straight from the horse's mouth.
You don't have to pay to hike Round Bald, though, and it is at the same area with equally as pretty foliage. Round Bald is reached by parking at the state line and hiking the Appalachian Trail straight up to the top of the big grassy bald. This is a neat trail to hike because there are four balds right in a row that the AT crosses. You can see forever on all of them. When you get to the top of the 3rd bald, there is a side trail to the right which leaves the AT and heads up to the 4th, largest bald, and it's worth hiking it to see the memorial. There is a nice trail that heads to the back of this bald, too. If you can hike this trail early in the morning you can avoid the sporadic crowds that show up here, and you will really enjoy the hike. Be prepared, though, because it is always windy this high up, and it can even be pretty cool in the summer.
NE TN, Hwy 91 out of Elizabethton towards Shady Valley and VA, continue on 91 until Panhandle Rd on left, there will be a brown Forest Service sign with an area of interest symbol pointing to the road, go WAY up the road to the gated trail head at the top of the mountain, it will be forking off to the right
I really like this trail, too. If you hike straight down this trail, after about a mile or so you'll come to the Holston Mountain Fire tower. Now, the first time I went there the steps were mountable. The last time I was there, I had to pretty much climb the fire tower without the luxury of steps. I don't know if someone broke them off, or what happened to them, but the first flight was pretty dangerous. But if you can do it, the view over South Holston Lake and Shady Valley are just amazing. You can see Iron Mountain and Cross Mountain and on clear days you can see Bristol. It is a great view. But if you continue down the trail (follow the blue blazes of this old section of the AT), about 2.5 boring miles from the tower, there will be an intersection in Flint Mill Gap. The middle trail on the left (there is a sign, and it's the smallest foot trail, as the others look like old roads) will take you to Flint Rock. This view over South Holston and the forest surrounding it are just amazing...especially in the fall. The trail past the tower is pretty uneventful, but it's worth the time. You can get to Flint Rock from the valley, and it's only about a mile instead of the 3.5 miles from my trailhead, but it's STRAIGHT up the whole way...I'd rather have the casual hike, personally.
E TN/ W NC, from Knoxville take I-40 East to first exit in NC, take Harmon Den exit and turn left onto gravel road, go ALL the way to end of road and turn left, continue until you see trail head sign for Max Patch on your right, you can see the huge bald to the right
There's really not much of a trail hike here, even though this is on the AT. But to get to the top of the Bald really only takes a short hike from the parking area UP to the top. But the top is still rewarding. You look out over Pisgah National Forest all around you, and Cherokee National Forest just a little ways off. The Smoky Mountains National Park is just south of here, and you can see its hazy blue slopes, too. This is a very big bald, but I've never seen many people out here. It's a pleasant place to just go hang out...but it does take quite a while to drive out to it...it's about 2 - 2.5 hours from Knoxville. But you do pass a lot of trails and camp sites along the way that you may want to explore for yourself.
Western North Carolina, from Knoxville take I-40 East to NC, exit at exit #27 towards Clyde, take US-23/74, following signs to East Carolina University, take 107 towards Cashiers, in Cashiers turn left on US 64, take US 64 for a couple of miles to Cedar Creek Road, left on Cedar Creek Road to Breedlove Road, right on Breedlove to end of road at Panthertown Parking Area
This is a great area. It's a designated Primitive Area, and it has outstanding views, outstanding waterfalls, outstanding solitude and some really interesting rock formations. The Valley is not very big, and you can spend a day just exploring the many, many small trails that weave through the area. The trails above the valley walls are where the real solitude can be found, and you can easily spend several weekends exploring the network of old logging roads. You can buy a map of the trails at the outdoors store in Cashiers right on the corner of 107 and 64. I HIGHLY recommend a map...there are lots of official and unoffical trails in Panthertown, and you'll never find all the cool little waterfalls and other interesting features if you don't have a map. My description isn't really doing this place justice, because there really are a lot of very diverse experiences to be found in Panthertown. Be sure to check out such places as Little Green, Big Green, Schoolhouse Falls, Warden Falls, Cold Mountain and Devil's Elbow...those should give you a good starting place for exploring this area! Check out some pictures, and enjoy.