Appalachian Trail - Overmountain Shelter to Highway 19 E
Beautiful Views but Well Earned
Author – Jim Williams
Difficulty Level: Advanced
You probably should not do this trail alone. You should be an experienced hiker who knows about safety on the trail, first aid, equipment and what to do in an emergency. You should be physically capable of the hike. I like to bring a buddy who is in better shape than me and is able to carry me out if necessary.
Sturdy hiking boots are required for this trail to protect your ankles and feet from damage. You will need to carry at least a day pack, more if you camp.
Time: Expect to spend 7-9 hours.
If you plan to go to the trail head at Hwy 19 E. If it’s an over-nighter, 4-5 hours to the campsite in this article and another 4-5 hours out to the highway.
Distance: Total distance one way is 9.16 miles. Elevation gain is about 2500’ to top of Big Hump Mountain but you first have to gain about 2000’ to Little Hump then loose it because the trail takes you down in the gap between the two mountains and up again to Big Hump. So plan on climbing a total of about 4000’. In this narrative I’m going to discuss an over night stay between the two mountains (Little Hump and Big Hump).
Safety: I have rated this as an advanced hike because of the elevation change and the technical difficulty of part of the trail. The route starts with forest service road for about eight tenths of a mile with good footing. Then things get steep and the trail is narrow, often slick, with rocks and roots in places. This is a full on hike. Take water (or a filter – there are water sources along the trail) and food. A first aid kit and dry clothes are recommended even for the day hike. You should be experienced enough to monitor how you feel.
Courtesy: You will encounter other hikers along the way. Some have hiked from Georgia from the south or Maine from the north. If they’ll stop, the conversation is always good
How to get there: This review is just to get you interested. Buy a map for the road and the trail. It’s the AT so there is plenty of information, including elevation change, available. From Marion, take Hwy 221 north toward Spruce Pine. At Spruce Pine take Hwy 19 E toward Cranberry. Along 19 E, about 9 miles out of Spruce Pine, look for Powder Mill Church on the left. Almost immediately you will see a left turn on to Roaring Creek Road. Stay on Roaring Creek Rd for about three miles. At every fork along the way stay to the right. You will come to a Forest Service gate at the end of the road. There is a small parking area to the left. But remember, get a map.
The Trail: From the gate it’s a simple trail to follow. Just stay on the forest service road. It goes uphill for almost a mile. When you see the old red barn out to the left you will soon see the trail to the right that takes you to the AT. Follow the access trail to the AT for less than a quarter mile. This trail is also uphill and a little rocky and rooty but not too difficult.
Overview – You will soon come to a crossing of the AT and the Overmountain Victory Trail. There are a few things to read here at the crossing. Then go to the north up a narrow and pretty steep path. It’s a hard climb but turns into to a wooded trail at the top. Follow the trail for about another three miles to the base of Little Hump Mountain. You’ll see what’s ahead from there to the top. Just suck it up and do it. Don’t forget to stop and breathe and take in the view.
After you summit Little Hump the trail does a button hook to the right and comes down the backside of the hill. The trail will continue down into the forest. Once in the forest there are several campsites. If you go far enough, you’ll find a very good source of water. There’s a great site about three minutes before the water source. You’ll see a double blaze on the trail at the site which is off in the woods. Did I mention to get a map? Here’s a tip: When you purchase a map try to go to a store like REI or Diamond Brand. When you get the map, ask if there is someone who has walked the trail you are considering. If so, ask them about camping and water. I sometimes get the map marked up before I leave. Most of the salespeople are hikers and eager to help.
Once you leave the campsite, a short walk will bring you to the base of Big Hump. It’s like Little Hump only higher and steeper. It’s a 360 panorama at the top.
After crossing the top of Big Hump it’s down hill for the next five miles to Hwy 19 E. I’m not sure if this is the easiest or hardest part of the hike. The down hill hike, after you leave the grassy balds, is rocky, moss covered, very slick and technical for about three miles. With weight on your back it is difficult and time consuming. After 2 ½ to 3 miles you’ll get to Doll Flats. There’s some easy going there but more rocks ahead. Just endure. A couple more miles and you’ll be at 19 E and the end of this one.
Before you go on the hike, Google Ridgewood Bar-B-Que in Elizabethton, Tennessee. It’s about a thirty minute drive from the trail end but worth it if like bar-b-que.