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3 Day Hikes on the Appalachian Trail in Northeast Tennessee

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

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There are so many amazing places to hike on the Appalachian Trail, but what if you just don’t have the time? While the AT is known for its remoteness in nature it is also easily accessible at the thousands of road crossings. These three locations in Northeast Tennessee are great places to strike out for a simple day hike to see waterfalls, panorama mountain views, and stunning sunsets.

Did you know? You can download this map directly to your phone or tablet! Just press the box symbol in the top-right corner and this map will open in your Google Maps app. Now you can take the map with you during your adventure!

As always be sure you are prepared for your day trip hike. Wear comfortable shoes, brings lots of water (even on chilly days when you don’t think you’ll need it), and bring some trekking poles to help with the uneven terrain. Each of these hikes are easily doable in a single day, but the beautiful part about the AT is that any hike can be an overnight trip.

The massive Laurel Fork Falls at Mile 413.8 on the Appalachian Trail in TN on Friday, April 27, 2012. Copyright 2012 Jason Barnette

This early spring view of Laurel Falls was a great time to visit because of the amount of water.

1. Laurel Falls

Located near Hampton, this massive waterfall is a fairly easy day hike and remains one of the hidden treasures of the area. It is arguably one of the most impressive waterfalls in Northeast Tennessee but getting to this waterfall is quite an adventure.

The 2.5-mile round trip hike from Dennis Cove to the waterfall is fairly simple at first along an old railroad bed. A very primitive log bridge crosses the river as the trail meanders through rhododendron bushes. It’s a pleasant and an easy hike right up until the last quarter-mile.

A sudden sharp turn and hikers face a long series of earthen stairs descending a few hundred feet very quickly. It’s fairly easy going down but your legs will still get a workout (this is where a good set of trekking poles would be really helpful).

At the base of the descent is the roaring Laurel Falls. Hikers are treated to a straight-on view of the falls as the river bends to the left along the trail. During the Spring and early Summer months the waterfall will be at its fullest and provide a spectacle for viewers.

The initial hike back is the most difficult moment of the entire trail as hikers make the tall ascent in a short distance, but the effort is worth every strenuous step. The remaining journey back is easy, especially with the memories of the waterfall just experienced.

Visit the AllTrails website here for more details about the hike.

How to Get There

There are two access points to hike to Laurel Falls, but the route from Dennis Cove is the easiest and most popular. Begin at Highway 321 in Hampton, Tennessee. Continue through the small town until you see a Citizens Bank on the right and a road splitting off the main highway. This is Dennis Cove Road. Continue along this curvy, twisty mountain road about 4 miles to a small parking area on the left.

The view from the top of Round Bald on the Appalachian Trail in TN on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

Round Bald seems to just drop off, revealing uninterrupted views of the local landscape in all directions.

2. Carvers Gap

Carvers Gap straddles the North Carolina – Tennessee border near Roan Mountain State Park. Several points of interest converge on this spot such as the state park, the infamous Rhododendron Gardens, and the Appalachian Trail. There is a small parking area on the right along with a campsite and privy.

Cross the paved road to begin the journey up Round Bald. This is the first bald mountain top in a series along the Roan Highlands on the Appalachian Trail. The hike is a gradual and easy climb through a dense forest before emerging onto the exposed mountain top. A sign marks the top of Round Bald.

From here hikers can continue along the Appalachian Trail to many other bald mountains and beautiful scenic overlooks. A popular day hike route is about three miles along the AT toward Grassy Ridge Bald and then the return. People will frequently spend the night camping on Round Bald in a small grove of trees just off the trail.

How to Get There

From Tennessee take turn off US Route 19E onto Highway 143 and drive about 12 miles through Roan Mountain State Park up the mountain to the parking lot. From North Carolina take Highway 261 from Bakersville about 12 miles to the parking lot.

Beauty Spot at Mile 350.5 on the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee

Sunsets, and sunrises, at the Beauty Spot are magical and refreshing after a good day hike.

3. Beauty Spot

The aptly-named Beauty Spot is one of the most beautiful areas on the entire Appalachian Trail. It’s easily accessible after a drive along the dirt and gravel road across Unaka Mountain, making it a very popular day hike destination in Northeast Tennessee.

Once arriving in the cul-de-sac parking area visitors are immediately treated to a panorama view of the local mountain landscape. The view only gets better during the short five-minute hike up the spur trail to the Appalachian Trail. The area around Beauty Spot is a popular place for people to watch an amazing sunset and then enjoy a night camping on the trail.

Turning north or south the view is just as beautiful about five miles in either direction. Day hikers prefer hiking south along the trail and returning to Beauty Spot late in the evenings.

How to Get There

Take Highway 395 from Erwin toward the Rock Creek Recreation. Drive about 6 miles along the curvy road to a dirt and gravel road on the left. Drive through the gate (this gate is almost always open unless closed because of inclement weather). Continue about 2 miles along the gravel road across Unaka Mountain; this road will take about 10-15 minutes to drive, but it is accessible to passenger cars and two wheel drive vehicles. Look for a road splitting off to the right and follow the sharp curve to a cul-de-sac parking area.

If you would like to view more photos of the Appalachian Trail please visit my travel photography website at

3 Responses

  1. I want to do a three day hike with my daughter next month. Where would be a good starting point on the Appalachian trail.

    1. Well, if you want to do a three-day out-and-back hike in Tennessee, I would recommend Unaka Mountain. It’s a moderately difficult hike, though, with a large ascent. Start at the Nolichucky River in Erwin and hike northbound as far as Iron Mountain Gap at TN Highway 107. If you can get a ride back to your car, or you getting dropped off, I would suggest starting at Carvers Gap, hike northbound across the Roan Highlands, and end the three-day hike at Watauga Lake. Let me know if you want some more ideas.

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