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.
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.
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.
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.
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 photography.southeasterntraveler.com/National-Parks/Appalachian-Trail/