North Carolina's Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a 2150 mile footpath along the crest of the Appalachian mountains. Completed in 1937, approximately 300 miles of this trail pass through the mountains of southwestern North Carolina, and along the mountain range that forms the Tennessee border.

For more information, there is an Appalachian Trail homepage

Between October 18 and November 9, 1993, C. W. Magee hiked this section of the Appalachian Trail en route to Georgia as part of his 1993 through hike, which started on Katahdin, in central Maine. The images that follow are from that trip.

Forest Progression

In North Carolina, the trail reaches its highest altitude on Clingman's Dome, a 6,643 foot mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In contrast, at the crossing of the French Broad River near the town of Hot Springs, the trail's elevation is only 1,326 feet above sea level. As one might expect, the composition of the forest in these mountains changes significantly with elevation. This is the forest on the western side of Roan Mountain, at an elevation of approximately 6000 feet. [Evergreen forest] The trees here are spruce and firs, evergreens with short, dark needles. These conifers dominate the highest mountains in the southern Appalachians, resulting in a forest that is similar to that found in Maine and south eastern Canada at lower elevations. One difference between these forests, however, is the presence of rhododendron in the southern Appalachian forests. This shrub (on the right in this picture) has leathery, broad evergreen leaves, is not a conifer, and is found at all elevations in the southern Appalachians. However, it does not grow farther north than southern New York State.

"Big Bald ...
one of the best
views of any peak on the trail"

As one descends, the spruce/fir forest picks up mountain ash, then birch trees. At this point the fir disappears, and with the appearance of beech [Colorful deciduous
forest] and maple at slightly lower elevations, the spruce is no longer found. As one continues to lose elevation, cherries, hickories, and finally oaks appear, so that below about 4500 feet, the hardwood forest typical of most of the region is found. Here is a picture looking out over such a forest in eastern Tennessee, taken from the North Carolina-Tennessee Border.

Both of these pictures were taken on October 19, 1993.

The 5,516 foot Big Bald, a mountain on the Tennessee-North Carolina Border, has one of the best views of any peak on the trail. A bald is an open grassy area on top of a mountain. Many of these are found in the southern Appalachians in North Carolina, and they offer spectacular views. Big Bald is the highest mountain on the trail between Roan Mountain and the Smokies.

This picture is of the Black Mountains to the southeast. This range contains Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,663 feet), the two [The Black
Mountains] highest peaks in the Appalachians, and the high parts of the range are covered in dark, evergreen spruce fir forest, which during October offers excellent contrast with the brightly colored deciduous forest below. The Appalachian Trail does not cross the Black Mountains, but continues southwest towards the Great Smoky Mountains.

Looking southwest from Big Bald, one gets an excellent view of these [The Smokies] mountains, which contain Clingman's Dome, which the trail crosses, and Guyot Mountain (6,621 feet), which the trail goes around, the third and fourth highest peaks in the Appalachians.

Both of these pictures were taken late in the afternoon of October 22nd, 1993. The next morning, fog had collected in the valley to the East. [Fog in the valley] The large mountain to the left of center is Roan Mountain, on which I had camped on the night of the 18th. In addition to views of these mountains, one can also see south to the Nantahala Mountains and northwest to the Cumberland Plateau.

"Here the author considers a
similar action

[Lover's Leap]
Lover's Leap
, above the French Broad River. According to legend, a young Cherokee woman threw herself off of this precipice after her lover was killed by a jealous rival. Here the author considers a similar action after finding out that the town of Hot Springs, located across the river, is in a dry county.

Note that at the low elevation here, many of the trees are just beginning to turn colors. Also, the observant viewer will notice something unusual about this picture. It turns out that unlike the vast majority of thru-hikers, I hiked the southern half of the trail in sneakers. This picture was taken on October 25th, 1993.

more of the appalachian trail hike

For descriptions of other parts of this thruhike, see Chuck's Thru-hike page

Photographs and text by C. W. Magee. HTML by C. W. Magee and Kelly Jo Garner.