The place: One of the most well-known trailheads in our area, Carvers Gap
The hike: The Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap to Overmountain Shelter
You can always expect to see a few cars at the National Forest Service parking lot at Carvers Gap, right on the Tennessee/North Carolina border, up from Roan Mountain State Park.
Yes, Roan Mountain/Carvers Gap is NFS, not RMSP. It’s a common misconception. You’re likely to stop at both in a day, both have some great hikes and both have great views. If you get in trouble up here, you could get rescued by RMSP staff, NFS staff, and/or rescue squads from either side of the state line.
Carvers Gap on a weekend is packed. Cars lined the edges of the serpentine road, starting a half-mile from the A.T. crossing. I was lucky enough to get into the parking lot. I can’t stress enough getting to Carvers Gap early in the day for the parking alone.
The hike from Carvers Gap to the Overmountain Shelter is roughly six miles of ups and downs. You start from the parking lot with an ascent through a small but gorgeous alpine forest, only to be spat out onto Round Bald. For the next two miles, it’s more treeless ridgeline, over past Jane Bald and to the turnoff for popular camping spot Grassy Ridge.
It is here that I realized my first mistake: I forgot my sunscreen. This would eventually lead to my hiking buddy “L19” and I getting off the trail in an unexpected manner on Sunday. When dealing with the balds, you should always have two things in addition to the 10 Essentials: sunscreen and a windbreaker. Seven of 10 times you’re on the balds with the sun beating down. Those other three it’s cloudy and windy.
By the time we reached the turnoff for Grassy Ridge, I was nearly out of water, and L19 had pet approximately 30 of the 41 dogs whose ears she would scratch during the hike. If you’re out of or nearly out of water at Grassy Ridge, you have two options. There’s water off the A.T. in the “camping area” at Grassy Ridge, if it hasn’t dried up for the summer. Your second option, which I recommend if you’re NOT heading up to Grassy Ridge, is to continue on the A.T. for approximately .2 miles. There, a stream crosses the trail, and trail maintainers have handily installed a pipe to make it easier to fill your water bottle and filter the water.
(Filter your water from streams. ALWAYS do it. You don’t want to get sick on the trail. I’ve heard the horror stories.)
Once we got past the water source, L19 and I were relieved to find fewer people on the trail. Once you see the spectacular views of the balds, most wouldn’t want to step into the cooling shade, right?
You continue along the A.T. for what felt like forever to me. However, it was mostly downhill, which made me very happy. At that point, my feet were developing hotspots that would later become full-blown blisters.
It is after the descent that you reach the first A.T. Shelter past Carvers Gap. The Stan Murray Shelter is the normal type for the A.T. It’s a wooden platform, enclosed on three sides and has a roof. There’s a beam with some ropes you can hang food sacks and/or backpacks from. A water source is nearby. Bonus: this one has a picnic table.
L19 and I stopped for a few minutes for water, snacks and a chat with a pair of friends camping at Stan Murray. They let us know that the next bit of trail would be up-and-down, but not too bad. Also, be prepared for the descent to the Overmountain Shelter.
I will say this: their description of the next two miles was fairly accurate. They had mentioned some switchbacks which never materialized, but it wasn’t too difficult overall.
If you aren’t paying attention, you may almost miss the turn for the side-trail down to the Overmountain Shelter. There’s a number of small displays with historical information about the Overmountain Men, a group of men who traveled over the mountains to Kings Mountain, SC. There, they fought British troops and won.
At these signs, it’s a crossroads. There’s a trail off to the left and right as the A.T. continues ahead of you. To the left will take you down-mountain to Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area. (We will have a Trail Notes about that area at some point.) Continuing straight takes you to U.S. 19 in Roan Mountain. To get to the Overmountain Shelter, you want the trail to your right. You will follow this most of the way down to the shelter.
IMPORTANT NOTE: As you start down this trail, the Overmountain Trail branches off to the left. DO NOT FOLLOW THIS. IT WILL NOT TAKE YOU TO THE SHELTER.
The trail eventually ends at a forest service gravel road, which you take to the right. There, tired and possibly a bit sunburnt, you will find the Overmountain Shelter and a large field for pitching tents.
Unfortunately, National Forest Service engineers have deemed the shelter structurally unsafe and have closed it to campers. However, there is the field. There’s also a privy, a water source and one of the most gorgeous views to wake up to in the area.
Recap: Bring lots of water or a water filter. Don’t forget the sunscreen and a windbreaker. Most importantly, pack your patience because this portion of the trail may challenge you. Most hiking apps and websites rate it as “moderate.” I’d agree, with spots bordering on “hard.” Most of all, enjoy the view.