Devil Fork Gap to Flint Mountain Shelter

Got in a short 5.4 mile out and back on the Appalachian Trail from Devil Fork Gap to Flint Mountain Shelter. If you want a taste of what an AT forest walk is like, without a taste of what an AT killer climb is like, this is the hike for you. As a matter of fact, as far as AT hikes out of a gap, this is about as easy as it gets.

The weather was cool, cloudy, and drizzly, with temperatures around 40F. Perfect hiking weather, in other words. The trailhead isĀ  on the TN/NC border along TN-352/NC-212. Plenty of parking along the south side of the road, which is actually the northbound trailhead. To head to Flint Mountain shelter, you climb the steps on the north side of the road and head northeast along the trail.

This section winds along, following the contours in a relatively gentle climb. It then crests over a small ridge and descends to an old road grade, which it follows for about 3/4 mile. The trail resumes a gentle climb, nicely following the contours. I kept waiting for the trail to turn and start a brutal climb up one of the neighboring ridges, but thankfully, it never did.

Now that I think about it, I can see why much of the AT climbs directly up ridge lines: trail construction along the side of a hill along the contour lines is obviously much more difficult. The trail builders here did a great job, and it shows.

At 2.7 miles from the gap, you cross a series of small streams and make a short climb to the shelter. The shelter is one of the nicer ones in this area, and the setting is pretty. My picture doesn’t do justice; the lens was warm from the camera being in my pocket and moisture condensed on it when I removed the lens cap.

After a quick snack, I returned the way I came. When I have more time, I’d like to return and make the push up Coldspring Mountain (a brutal climb as I understand) and through to Round Knob or Allen Gap.

Distance: 5.4 miles. Time: 2-3/4 hours. More photos here

Laurel Falls Hike

Now that the (unusually) frigid weather of the last few weeks has passed, I decided to get out for a short day hike to Laurel Falls, near Hampton, Tenn. This is a nice easy-to-moderate hike of about five miles round trip (from the Hampton trailhead; you can also hike in from Dennis Cove, which is a little shorter, but requires more driving.)

Trailhead Marker

The trailhead is on US-321, about 1-1/2 miles east of the intersection with US-19E, right outside the small town of Hampton. The signed trailhead parking lot is on the south side of the road.

From the parking lot, follow blue blazed Forest Service trail 501 about 1 mile to a signed junction with the AT. This first part is a little confusing; there are numerous side trails and roads. Stay with the blue blazes.

The walk is upstream along the Laurel Fork of the Doe River. There are a few climbs that take you above the river and then back down, with the river always in earshot.

Laurel Fork

The temperature was in the low 20′s when I started, and there was still a few inches of snow in the deep gorge. The river was covered with ice and snow, and there were a few icy spots on the trail to watch out for.

At the junction with the AT, bear right and follow the white blazes as the trail goes along the river, crosses two spectacular log bridges, and then turns left to climb steeply up a narrow ridge.

Log Bridge over Laurel Fork

In the middle of the ridge is a sign showing the route to Laurel Falls descending to the right. Take this fork and descend back to the river and another short climb and descent before reaching the falls.

Laurel Falls, Covered with Ice

The falls themselves are really impressive, and this morning they were almost completely covered with ice, with the roaring water cascading behind the ice. Took a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee from my thermos and snap some pictures, before returning the way I came.

Distance: 5 miles. Time: 2-1/2 hours.