Appalachian Trail – Miles and miles of great rocky and rooty trail with fantastic views and endless elevation gain and loss (hiking only).
Location: From Georgia to Maine; the easiest access points are on Catawba Mountain about 20 minutes North of Salem off Route 311 and just off the interstate in Daleville (exit 150) at the Park and Ride (climb over the guardrail and look for the white blazes).
Favorite AT Runs:
McAfee’s Loop (7.8 or 10 miles – Moderate-Strenuous) – park at the trailhead on top of Catawba Mountain (first big mountain north of Salem) off of 311. From here head across the highway and start on the trail. Be very careful crossing 311 as there is a lot of traffic and visibility is limited. It is 3.5 miles to the top (you can head back down the trail to the road; and take the road back or take the trail back to the parking lot for the 7 mile loop). Or you can continue north on the AT until the trail joins up with a fireroad at the big powerlines (when the trail goes from single track to a 10ft wide trail you are at this point). Head right at the power lines and take this road all the way back to route 311 for a 10 mile loop.
Route 311 to route 779 (11.5 or 15 Miles Strenuous) – Once you climb up to McAfee’s Knob, this section isn’t too bad until you start the long climb up to Tinker Cliffs. It tends to hold a lot of leaves from the fall to spring (sometimes waist high). Some people will take this section to the Cliffs and then turn back to 311 for a 15 mile section. Others will stage a car at 779 and finish with a great 3 mile descent on the Andy Lane trail.
6.5 Mile Run to Dragon’s Tooth (Strenuous) – From the above, 311, parking lot you can stage a car and run south on the AT to Dragon’s tooth. This is a common section that we used to run at night for a nice 8 mile run. Once you cross the second asphalt road (Newport Road) be on the lookout for the Boy Scout trail (About 1 mile up the hill. There will be a sign). This trail will go around the mountain, the Dragon’s Spine, and bring you to the Dragon’s Tooth Parking lot. I prefer this route because taking the AT instead of the Boy Scout Trail adds a lot of climbing and terrain that isn’t conducive to running.
Dragon’s tooth – 2.8 miles out and back for a 5.6 miles round trip (Moderate-Strenuous). I’d call this a hard run or intermediate hike. Get there by taking 311, 16 or so miles north of Salem, until you see the National Forest sign for the Dragon’s Tooth Parking lot on the left of the road. The trail will leave the parking lot and take you on a gradual climb for about 1 mile. From here it gradually get steeper until you intersect with the AT. This point is a level spot called Lost Spectacles Gap. From here you will want to head right on the AT for another .5-.75 miles to the top of Dragon’s tooth. This section has a lot of rocks to climb over and steel ladder rungs anchored into the rocks to help you climb up.
For those of you with a fear of heights or exposure to ledges – I’d recommend going left at Lost Spectacles Gap. This section of the AT will be less rocky and will take you to another great view without having to climb up so many rocks and ladders. Once you get enough of the view or to where the trail starts to lead you downward over the rocks, turn around and head back to the parking lot.
Andy Lane Trail – 3.6 mile uphill climb to Tinker Cliffs (Strenuous). The parking lot for this trail is hard to find. You will want to take 779 off of 311 at Catawba or from 220 in Daleville. From here it is about 5-6 miles to the parking lot. You will want to be on the lookout for other cars in the gravel parking lot. There are a few big stainless steel electrical boxes at the parking lot (they sometimes help give the parking lot away).
Tinker Mountain (7.2 Miles round Trip – Strenuous) – Park at the Park and Ride in Daleville just north of I-81 off of 220. Look for the big guardrail that leads you up the hill (around the back of the Motel and Gas Station to the right) onto a concrete slab. This will take you to the AT and up to Tinker Mountain. The usual turnaround point is Lookout Rock. This is a rock that looks out over Carvin’s Cove. You can’t miss it because the AT takes you right onto it. It even has a white blaze on the rock leading the way.
Route 220 to route 779 (12.5 Miles – Strenous) – This will require you staging a car at the end. This section has some of my favorite running and climbing sections in it. Once you climb up to the top of Tinker Mountain you will have some great running on the ridge. There are plenty of rocks to hop over on this section and you will get in two more 400ft butt burning climbs in this section.
Route 220 to route 311 (20 Miles – Strenuous)
This 20 mile section will have it all. This is one of the toughest sections of the AT that I have been on (and one of my favorites. I think it has about 5500ft of climbing in this section. My personal best time for this run is 3 hours and 50 minutes. The four hour mark is hard to achieve. I use this section as a time trial when training for an Ultra. When you reach the end Be very careful crossing 311, as there is a lot of traffic and visibility is limited.
Hollin’s Side of the Cove – 19.5 or 14.5 mile loop (Strenuous) – Park at Hollin’s side of the cove. Hike out on the road you came in on. About 100yards out of the gate you will see a clearing to the left where a gas line comes through. At the far edge of the gas line, where it meets the road there is an old trail that heads up to Tinker Mountain and the AT. At the top of the climb the trail kind of thins out. Keep climbing toward the power lines and left and you will eventually hit the AT. Once on the AT you will have about a 6.5 mile run when you will come to a creek and some picnic tables. From here you will have about a .5 mile to the Sawmill Branch trail that heads down to the Cove. If you come to the AT shelter you have gone too far. Keep a lookout to the left. The Sawmill Branch trail will be at a point where Carvin’s Cove is painted on two trees that mark the sides of the trail entrance. Take the Sawmill branch down to where it intersects with the Arrowhead trail and head left. After about a .5 mile you will come to a gravel road. Go left and you will have 3.5 miles until you get back to your car.
This can now be extended to a 19.5 mile loop by using the new Hollins Greenway off of Plantation Road. Take Exit 146 off of 581 and then head north where the road T’s and you will head right on Carvins Cove Dam Road for around .75 miles to the greenway parking lot on the right. From the parking lot it is 2.5 miles to the Boat Dock parking lot. So this adds 5 miles to the above loop.