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North Fork River

Footbridge across North Fork River

Forest Service Road with upward hike

Author – Jim Williams

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Total distance  – round trip is 9.16 miles

Appalachian Trail - Overmountain Shelter to Highway 19 E

Mostly single track trails.  There will be moderate to difficult elevation gains.  Remember we live along and in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  They don’t call them mountains without a reason.  The distances will be a little longer and you’ll be carrying snacks and water.

Shoes:  A light to medium weight hiking boot that supports the ankle.

Time:  Expect to spend 4 – 6 hours on the trail if you plan to go to the river bridge.

Distance:  Total distance round trip is 9.16 miles.  Elevation gain is about 150’ to top then down to the bridge.  Remember you gain the same on the way back.

Safety:  I have rated this as a moderate hike mainly because of the elevation change.  The route is all forest service road and pretty good footing but take plenty of water and maybe a snack.  Monitor how you feel.  There are snakes in the area (like most of the county) but I have not yet seen one.

Courtesy:  You may encounter riders and horses along the way.  I have found these folks to be friendly and courteous.  Remember to give the horses the right of way and be careful not to scare them.  The riders will have control but no use to take a chance.  Just stay quiet and out of the way until they pass.  You’re smarter than the horse (even though you have elected to be out here sweating rather than home with a slice of pie and the TV). 


HOW TO GET THERE: From Marion, take Hwy 221 north toward Sevier.  About a mile before you get to the turn off to the American Thread Plant, theris a small community called Woodlawn.  You will see a small park and picnic area on the left.  Look for parking on either side of the road.  Be careful, a left turn into the park from here is across Hwy 221.  This area is sometimes confused with Charlotte Motor Speedway. The trail starts at the service road gate on the east side of the highway.

THE TRAIL:  From the gate it’s a simple trail to follow.  Just stay on the forest service road.  There are other trail options along the way but this trail is all FS road.  After about a mile, you will be climbing.  The road winds a bit but it’s a clear trail.  At a little over a mile, there is another FS gate.  Keep going.  That just confirms you’re on the right track.  Climb.  Climb.  Climb.  Finally you will reach a small meadow on top of the hill.  Stop.  Take a drink and enjoy the view.  As you look north easterly you should see Dobson’s Knob.  That’s another hike.  To the south and east you might see Lake James.


It’s downhill from here most of the way to the bridge with a little flat land at the bottom.  Stay on the road all the way.  Don’t forget, for every step you take downhill there will be one coming back up.  Maybe two if you hike like me.  You can turn back at any point if you’re tired.


When you get to the bridge that spans the North Fork of the Catawba River stop and have a snack if you brought one.  You earned it.  This is a great place to take some pictures and just amble for a while.


After you have rested, head back up the hill.  Same way out as you came in.

If you didn’t make it to the bridge today, save this one for another attempt.


And remember, like the old chief said, “Take only the memories.  Leave only the footprints”.