Firescald Ridge & Blackstack Cliffs, TN (6-18-16)
The Firescald Ridge is a spectacularly narrow and exposed ridge which runs along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee north of the town of Hot Springs (NC). Lying directly along the main route of the venerable Appalachian Trail, the ridge was nonetheless bypassed by said trail up until 2003. In that year the A.T. was relocated up and over the highest and most exposed section of the ridge after a seven year construction effort undertaken by numerous local hiking groups was completed. Now, this spectacular 1.5-mile section of trail is arguably the most spectacular and scenic piece of the A.T. between the Smokies and the Roan's. For quite a while I had known I must hike it. Problem was...the hike was sufficiently far away from my home in Transylvania County, NC (2.5 hours) that I wanted to make sue that, if I went, I'd be treated to the most photo-friendly weather conditions possible. For over a year I waited...then the stars finally aligned on this clear June day of 2016.
The trailhead for the hike is located high on the ridge at a place called Jones Meadow just beneath Camp Creek Bald. To reach it you have to drive the narrow and, for the last three miles, dirt Viking Mountain Road which climbs from Tennessee Highway 70 just north of the North Carolina state line. Parking at the airy lot atop Jones Meadow the access trail enters the woods for it undulating half-mile descent to the Appalachian Trail itself. Heading north on the A.T. I'd first stop by the fantastic Blackstack Cliffs, reached by a short spur trail. I'd then continue north a short distance more before reaching the split of the old bad weather route and the new relocated ridgetop trail. I decided to head straight for the ridgetop on this hike and, as you'll see, it is one doozy of a stretch of trail! I'd follow the spectacular open ridge north until once again reaching the bad weather trail at its north end. From that point I'd reverse course using the bad weather trail for the return route south...making for about a 4-mile loop. To ice the cake, however, I also ended up making a brief detour north on the A.T. to a spur path out onto Whiterock Cliff before returning to my car.
At right around 5-miles total this isn't an overly long hike and the elevation change is fairly reasonable as well. If you can find your way to the trailhead pretty much anyone could do this hike...as you'll see in this album I'm surprised it doesn't get more attention than it does!
So, come along with me to a lesser known piece of mountaintop paradise along the Appalachian Trail...get your eyes ready for a treat...ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.030964, -82.705625
Route Type: Lollipop + spurs Difficulty: HARD
Mileage Hiked: 4.9 miles Hike Duration: 2:30
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 4,180' Max. Elevation: 4,540'
Total Vertical Gain: 800' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 163'
Trails Used (blaze color): Appalachian (white), Appalachian Access (blue), Whiterock Cliff Spur (unblazed)