The Place: Roan Mountain, Tennessee
The Hike: Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area
Unless you fish or have been told about it by someone who’s been there, you may not have heard of Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area. It’s one of four areas designated as such by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
(The others are Bays Mountain, Morril’s Cave and Watauga River Bluffs.)
Hampton Creek Cove is special for three reasons. First, the gorgeous creek that’s home to brook trout. Second, it’s vital nesting habitat for golden-winged warblers. (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology refers to them as “a sharply declining songbird.”) Third, the Overmountain Trail runs pretty much right through it.
As far as hikes go, this isn’t strenuous unless you head up the Overmountain Trail. When I say up, I mean literally up.
From the parking lot off Hampton Creek Road, you first tramp through the brush in a sometimes marshy area. You quickly cross the Left Prong Hampton Creek, then follow the “trail” to the right. A short distance on, you cross the creek again before making your way into pasture land, complete with cows.
It’s this shrubby pasture land that makes Hampton Creek Cove perfect for golden-winged warblers. The cows you’re more than likely see help keep grasses and undergrowth under control, making it possible for the warblers to nest. (Read more here.)
The trail continues down the side of two gated pastures before your third crossing of Left Prong Hampton Creek. At this point, a decision: you can continue up the Overmountain Trail, through another long pasture, before making the ascent to Yellow Mountain Gap – or – you follow the trail into the woods.
TDEC MAP: Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area
If you go into the woods, you’re on the Shell Hollow Trail. This lasso-style path gradually climbs uphill through forest. The time of year will dictate what kind of plants and animals you’ll see, but I’ve rarely visited this oasis without spotting a least a handful of deer.
Hampton Creek Cove defines solitude and relaxation. Take a hammock, hang it up and relax deep in the woods or by the creek for a while. You won’t regret it.