Appalachian Trail State Profile: North Carolina / Tennessee

After leaving Georgia at Bly Gap (mile 78), the Appalachian Trail climbs and descends through North Carolina for 96 miles, hits the Tennessee state line at Doe Knob (mile 174), then spends the next 292 miles criss-crossing between the two states. The AT follows this state line until reaching Virginia at mile 466. 

Terrain

The climbs become more significant through North Carolina and Tennessee, but many are designed with switchbacks to ease the pain. Hikers will get above 6,000 feet through the Smokies, meaning early spring NOBOs will likely experience seriously cold conditions in this rugged, scenic national park.

Highlights

Mile 78: That Tree at Bly Gap

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Gnarled, yet dignified. Like many a thru-hiker.

Mile 136: The NOC

The Nantahala Outdoor Center is a gear resupply haven. After a long descent, this outdoors center welcomes hikers with food, a well-stocked outfitter, lodging options, and a place to print your Smokies permit.

Mile 167-237: Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The “Smokies” are one of the first big milestones for NOBO hikers, and hiking through this splendid national park will be an experience not soon forgotten. This section stays between 4,000-6,000 feet, so hikers should be prepared for potentially rough weather in the early spring. Dogs are not allowed, and permits are required.

Mile 195: Silers Bald

Snap a picture at this prime Smokies photo opp. The open summit sits at 5,600 feet.

Mile 200: Clingmans Dome

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 At 6,644 feet, this is the highest spot on the AT. The tower offers an incredible vantage point to gaze back on the Smokies.

Mile 207: Gatlinburg, TN

Hitch a ride from Newfound Gap to this quirky town. Gatlinburg is home to a mind-boggling array of tourist attractions, restaurants, and other oddities. This is also a solid resupply for the middle of the Smokies.

Mile 255: Max Patch Bald

Iconic, photogenic bald summit with 360-degree views

Mile 274: Hot Springs, NC

This is the first trail town that the Appalachian Trail actually passes through. It is a welcome respite after the Smokies, filled with quaint stores, hearty diners, and friendly faces.

Mile 274: Smoky Mountain Diner, Hot Springs NC

Easily one of the best restaurants along the Appalachian Trail, a hungry hiker won’t forget their meal at this classic diner in Hot Springs. Grab the Hiker Burger or a breakfast skillet. Maybe both.

Mile 274: Laughing Heart Hostel, Hot Springs NC

Located right on the main drag of Hot Springs, Laughing Heart was built specifically to accommodate thru-hikers. The building has three bathrooms, kitchen access, wifi, and plethora of board games.

Mile 326: Big Bald

A high-elevation, bare summit sitting at over 5,500 feet.

Mile 356: Beauty Spot

Famous, photogenic clearing with incredible views. A nearby parking lot makes this a popular day-hike destination.

Mile 375-380: Roan Highlands

Voted one of the best sections of the entire Appalachian Trail, the Roan Highlands are the highlight of the southern half of the AT. Rolling climbs, open views, and the most above-treeline time AT hikers get until reaching New Hampshire.

Mile 387: Overmountain Shelter

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It’s worth the short off-trail walk to get to this large red barn, one of the best shelters along the AT. Hang out on the covered front porch and enjoy the incredible view.

Mile 421: Laurel Falls

Another popular day hike, Laurel Falls is a 55-foot cascading waterfall just a short jaunt off the AT.

Mile 380: Roan High Knob Shelter

Sitting at 6,186 feet, Roan High Knob Shelter is the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail

Straight from the thru-hikers

Big and beautiful bald mountains paired with views of seemingly endless mountains. –Colleen Goldhorn

I gauged which state I was sleeping in by whether or not the shelter had a privy. NC is decidedly less wild than TN, but TN had the better trail magic.  It’s much more scenic than Georgia! –Snapple

Scenic trails punctuated by increasingly difficult climbs, higher peaks, and more expansive vistas. Numerous fire towers highlight the section and the trail towns are all top notch. Well-maintained trails, steeper climbs than Georgia. –Leapfrog

NC/TN Dispatches

Additional NC/TN Info

Check out Georgia’s profile here

All mileages taken from The 2018 AT Northbound Guide, by David “AWOL” Miller

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Comments 1

  • Clay Bonnyman Evans : Oct 4th

    I like your list. A couple thoughts:

    Gatlinburg is just … gross. Not saying it’s not interesting, from an anthropological point of view, but it’s expensive and doesn’t cater much to skinny-ass hikers.

    Sadly, Overmountain Shelter has been closed, due to concerns about structural insufficiencies. The good news is, you can still throw up a tent on the lawn stretching out in front of it.

    ~Pony AT’16

    Reply

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