|From the Appalachian Trail in Roan Highlands in mid-June. Clingmans Dome scraping the clouds in the distance.|
From the South Carolina Border the Fifty Trail follows quiet county roads northward to pick up the Art Loeb Trail and follows section 2 of that trail to the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the small parking area on the Parkway the Art Loeb Trail makes what feels like a nearly vertical climb up to a ridge where it intersects with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, North Carolina’s State Trail.
The Fifty Trail then follows the Mountains-to-Sea Trail westbound, generally paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway to Waterrock Knob and then continues to follow the Mountain to Sea Trail mountain route to Polls Gap on Heintooga Ridge Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
At Polls Gap, the Fifty Trail follows a series of Park Trails northward: the Rough Fork Trail, Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, Swallow Fork Trail, and finally the Low Gap Trail to 4242’ Low Gap at the NC/Tennessee border and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. This ends the long arc that provides passage through South Carolina and begins the long Appalachian Trail segment that closely straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Fifty Trail continues northbound on the Appalachian Trail, soon leaving Great Smoky Mountains National Park and crossing the broad open summit of Max Patch with stunning views then descending to the wonderfully hiker-centered town of Hot Springs, North Carolina where the sidewalks are inlaid with Appalachian Trail logos every 100 feet or so. Here is the nominal end of the North Carolina Segment and the beginning of the Tennessee Segment, though the trail continues to hug the state line for more than 100 additional miles.
MAPS and TRAIL GUIDES:
Art Loeb Trail: https://www.hikewnc.info/trailheads/pisgah-national-forest/long-distance/art-loeb-trail/
Mountains-to-Sea Trail: https://mountainstoseatrail.org/the-trail/
Mountain Harbour Hostel: https://www.mountainharbour.info/
HEART OF THE TRAIL:
Combined with Tennessee’s ‘Heart of’ section, this 101.7 mile route follows the state line almost precisely. Follow the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from Allen Gap, (Tennessee Hwy. 70, NC Hwy 208) to US 19E near the Mountain Harbour Hostel. This section contains more outstanding scenic wonders than perhaps any other in the south. Included are the rugged exposed hike along the ridge at Firescald Knob, the major open summits of Big Bald, Beauty Spot, and the Roan Highlands and the major trail town of Erwin, Tennessee. It intersects with the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail at Yellow Mountain Gap where there are interpretive signs. If you can hike the Roan Highlands during mid-June when the flame azaleas and pink rhododendrons are in bloom you’ll be treated to views such as those in the photo.
Add 16½ more miles of trail south of Allen Gap and you can begin the hike in the hiker-friendly trail town of Hot Springs, NC.