Guide to the Appalachian Trail
Deeply rutted into the spine of the United State's oldest mountain range, the Appalachian Trail draws thousands of would-be thru-hikers every year.
You don't have to forego civilization for six months in order to enjoy the Appalachian Trail.
Like the Appalachians themselves, sections of the trail are beloved and cared for by Americans who have never even attempted the journey from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin.
Many backpackers, day-hikers, ecologist, geologists, and birdwatchers trace local sections of the trail in search of the history and solace these ancient mountains promise-and there's no better place to find all that (and more) than on the AT section through Tennessee.
The Great Smoky Mountains
Tackling the Smokies section of the Appalachian Trail is popular among those with time and tenacity enough to do it, and some even attempt to run the unsanctioned Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR)-a one-day, 72-mile unsupported run through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If the entire 72-mile section sounds like a lot, we suggest you at least go after Charlies Bunion, Andrews Bald, and/or Mount Cammerer.
Charlies Bunion is an 8.1-mile hike that some call one of the best sections of the entire Appalachian Trail.
The highest bald on the AT is easy to get to on the Forney Ridge trail from Clingmans Dome, and is a scenic spot for a picnic or just to relax.
And don't forget to climb Clingmans Dome Tower, the highest point on the entire trail.
The Clingmans Dome parking lot is also a good spot to use as a starting point for exploring other sections of the trail.
On the northeast side of the park, the AT exits the Smokies, crosses Interstate 40, and begins a 15 mile climb up to Max Patch: one of the most spectacular views in the southeast. On sunny summer days, you’ll find fellow hikers basking in the warmth of the sun or playing catch with their dogs until tennis balls and frisbies inevitably disappear in the tall grasses. In the colder months, you’ll likely have the bald to yourself, a chance to watch introspectively as a sea of grey clouds roll through the bare valleys below.
The Cherokee National Forest
Beyond Max Patch, 100 miles of trail in the Cherokee National Forest climb up to the Roan Highlands in the far northeastern end of the state. This stretch is the least-frequented and least regulated section, with only a few small mountain towns along the way.
If you’re considering hiking a section here, try the 20 miles from Max Patch to Hot Springs, NC, or any section in the 44-mile stretch between Sam’s Gap and Iron Mountain Gap. There’s also easy access in Erwin to a beautiful day hike on the AT, overlooking the Nolichucky River.
The Roan Highlands
As the Appalachian Trail departs from Tennessee on its way north, it's given a final glorious farewell on the high exposed hills of the Roan Highlands.
Visitors flock to the area in mid-June for the Rhododendron Festival, a two-day celebration lauding the largest natural rhododendron garden in the world, found between Roan High Bluff and Roan High Knob in the Highlands.
Bring your dog, your camera, and plenty of water and cold weather gear.
The AT finishes it's journey through Tennessee on Holston Mountain, beyond which are the gurgling waters along the Virginia Creeper Trail and the pony-pounded balds of the Grayson Highlands.