Trail Notes: Easy winter hike at Roan Mountain

Trail Team 11

(B.Stack/WJHL)

The Place: Roan Mountain State Park
The Hike: Moonshiners Run Trail

I keep turning up at Roan Mountain State Park like a bad penny. It’s one of those places that the soul seems drawn to. Yes, the balds at the top are breathtaking, but the forest farther down the mountain is magical.

I was signed up for a ranger-led hike in the afternoon but decided to go up in the morning for a warmup hike before grabbing lunch. Moonshiner’s Run looked easy enough to warm up.

Moonshiners Run is a roughly 1.9 mile out-and-back that parallels the Doe River for most of the journey. With it being so close the river, you can expect it to be almost marshy at times if it’s rained a lot.

The best place to park and access the trail is at the lot in the cabin area. (You can see the parking area on this map.)

I was the only person parked at the lot, which wasn’t unexpected with how cold the day was. I made sure my pack had some handwarmers in it, then took off across the road.

Many people may think the first bit of Moonshiners Run isn’t anything special. It begins with a slight down then uphill climb. There’s a large number of dead and decaying trees right beside the trail. It does, however, demonstrate well how an invasive species (like aphids and/or the Emerald Ash Borer) can wipe out patches of trees.

What it leaves behind, though, is also one of the most important trees in the forest: a dead one. Dead trees provide food for fungi, insects and other animals. They’re homes for others. They reinvigorate the soil with the release of nutrients. Sometimes, it’s even a handy place to sit and snack.

After the small climb, the trail is relatively level. Within a couple minutes, you get to where the Turkey Trot Trail diverges to over the ridge to your right.

(Heads up – you can make Moonshiners a loop by taking Turkey Trot over the ridge. After a roughly 200′ elevation increase in a quarter-mile, it dead ends into Forest Road Trail. Take a left on Forest Road. In about a quarter mile, you hit Moonshiners. If you cross the river, you’ve gone too far.)

If you’re into wildflowers, this is definitely a hike to take in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter, you see a myriad of fungi crawling up the side of dead trees. The play of light through winter trees is also fun.

As I headed down from where Turkey Trot branches off, I found the ground very soggy in places. I’d suggest taking it slow or using a trekking pole as you will slide in the mud. (Fortunately, I didn’t land on my bottom this time!)

Continuing on, you’ll hike through a reedy area – a perfect place for deer to hide. You’ll also spot the foundation of a former VFW building. According to a park ranger, the Burbank area of Carter County used to extend up to that point! It’s perfect for propping a backpack on to rummage about to find your snacks.

If you’re looking for an easy hike with some solitude and the opportunity to spot wildlife, this is it.

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