If you’re looking to beat the summer heat but also want to enjoy the outdoors then the mountains of Carter County, Tennessee are where it’s at. With hundreds of miles of trails at high elevation or leading to a shady swimming spot, two rivers and a pristine lake surrounded by national forestland, there’s no better place to get outside during the summer.
Roan Mountain State Park makes an excellent base camp with over thirty cabins available for rent and tent and RV camping as well. A short drive up the mountain from the park the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway at Carvers Gap. From the parking lot here you can hike north across the famed Roan Balds, one of the most beautiful sections of the AT or you can hike south where you’ll cross through dense spruce-fir forest and pass by the Roan High Knob shelter, the highest elevation shelter along the AT.
Pro tip: After a long day hiking in the mountains the wood fired pizza at Smoky Mountain Bakers is the perfect food to fill your belly.
Watauga Lake is another great spot to cool off by renting a boat at one of the marinas or a kayak or paddleboard to explore along the wooded shoreline. If you want to admire the lake but stay on land, the Appalachian Trail winds along the edge of the lake from its southernmost point and crosses the Watauga Dam. This six mile out and back hike provides sneak peeks of the lake through the trees along the way with a great view across the water from the top of the dam.
Trout fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Carter County with the Watauga River and its trophy section getting most of the glory. The Doe River also provides ample opportunity for anglers with the Doe River Fishing Trail providing public access points to over eight miles of the Doe River as well as access in Roan Mountain State Park.
Other great summer hikes include taking the Appalachian Trail to Laurel Falls, a spectacular 40’ tall and 50’ wide waterfall accessible by either a 2.5 miles round trip hike from the Dennis Cove trailhead or a 5.5 mile round trip hike from the Laurel Falls trailhead along Highway 321. Or for a less strenuous hike visit Blue Hole Falls which is less than a half mile round trip to see this smaller but no less beautiful triple waterfall.
The Tweetsie Trail is a ten mile long crushed gravel rail-trail running from Johnson City to Elizabethton. It’s perfect for cyclists of all ages, and bike rentals are available at Pedals on Rails in Elizabethton. And for mountain bikers the Hampton Watershed trail system features 6 miles of trail ranging from easy to advanced.
After your adventures are done for the day, downtown Elizabethton provides a welcome place to relax in the evening. You’ll find lots of small town charm, a covered bridge built in 1882 and plenty of places to eat and shop. Appalachian Sun Brewery and Riverside Taphouse provide great locations to relax with local brews at the end of a long day and you can often find live music on the weekends in Covered Bridge Park or restaurants or one of the watering holes downtown.
Visit tourcartercounty.com to learn more and start planning your next adventure!