AT Section Hike: Iron Mtn Gap to Erwin, TN

I have been working on connecting the random sections of the Appalachian Trail that I have already hiked, and I almost have it all completed up to Dennis Cove Rd (mile 416.5)! So, last week my son and I loaded up and headed to Gizmo Joe’s house, and then made our way to Erwin, TN. We had made reservations at the Erwin Mountain Inn & Suites for the night, which was only 1.1 miles from the Appalachian Trail, offers a pretty decent continental breakfast, has clean rooms (at a “hiker rate” might I add) and also allows folks to leave their cars parked in their lot (just fill out some paperwork) if Miss Janet is providing a shuttle.

We arrived at the hotel a bit before sunset, so we decided to drive down to where the AT crosses River Road, which also happens to be where Uncle Johnny’s is located. We went down and hung out near the river for a bit, and then went in and checked out Uncle Johnny’s Outfitter’s Store (which might I add still has a few GoLite items… really, I saw some visors, t-shirts, and even a quilt hanging up). We also decided to drive down to the Nolichucky Gorge Campgrounds to check them out since there is a short blue blazed trail that leads from the campgrounds to the AT (about 2 miles before it crosses River Road @ Uncle Johnny’s). After this, we went and picked up some food from a local pizza place, then headed back to the hotel to settle in for the night.

The next morning we woke up, cleaned up, then headed downstairs to partake of the hotels continental breakfast. After this we collected our items from the hotel room, checked out, then went out front to wait on Miss Janet to arrive. Just after 8 am she pulled up and we loaded our gear up in the back of her van! Once loaded up, we began making our way to Iron Mtn Gap to begin the short, 20ish mile hike back to Erwin, TN.

10996064_899123110151674_533209341634737584_nOn the drive to Iron Mtn Gap we got to pick Miss Janet’s brain about the short section of trail that we were about to hike. She was full of good info, and more than happy to share it with us. As well, Joe lived up to his trail name (“Gizmo” Joe) by getting her phone back to working order while on the drive to the trail head. Anyway, I definitely recommend checking in with her if you will be in the area and need a shuttle…

P1050747 P1050746After parting ways with Miss Janet, we began heading south on the AT, back towards Erwin. The morning was a bit overcast, but at this point, the weather was overall fine. Temps were likely in the 60’s, some wind was blowing, the sun was mostly hidden behind the clouds so no glaring skies, and the trail wasn’t really muddy. Also, for this hike, we were expecting to meet a number of thru hikers, so we didn’t really plan where we would stay each night. We had decided not to even consider shelters as they would likely be full anyway, so we were planning to just find a random campsite that was as close to a water source as possible…

P1050752 P1050750 P1050753We were only planning to hike somewhere around 10 miles each day, and on the first day we only had a few climbs, the biggest one about 1,300 ft climb over 2.2 miles up Unaka Mtn. Within the first hour, we had already meet several thru hikers (NOBO’s, of course), and the sun even started peeking out a bit more. Not that the morning started badly, but the day was shaping up to be a really nice day! As well, the timing was about right too… The trees were still bare for the most part, which meant we still had good views through the trees, but things were also starting to turn green, and we even saw a number of small flowers raining in colors from purple, white and yellow. It made for a beautiful landscape… Not to mention, with all the rain, the streams were flowing pretty well, so of course water was very good all along the trail, but it also made some really soothing bubbling sounds…

P1050756 P1050764 P1050766 P1050768 P1050773 P1050779 P1050781 P1050782 P1050784 P1050785From Iron Mtn Gap it was only just over 3 miles to Cherry Gap Shelter, which we decided we would stop at and have a snack. The day was beautiful, so we took our sweet time getting there. By the time we got to the shelter, we had come across probably 7 or 8 NOBO’s (a few of which I got on video). Many were in good spirits, but of course the talk came back to the weather… there has been quite a bit of rain this year, and it looks like it isn’t quite done yet. Anyway, almost 2 hours after we began our hike, we strolled into the shelter and found it to be occupied by 4 other thru’s stopping in for a break or to eat.

P1050787 P1050790 P1050791We dropped our packs at the shelter and began making conversations with the other hikers already there while digging out our own snacks. Then about 15 minutes later a drizzle began falling from the sky, so we decided we would haul our packs back on and continue on. We also decided to go ahead and deploy our pack covers to keep the items in our packs dry. As we were leaving out, yet another thru was hiking into the shelter…

P1050792 P1050794We followed the trail down a short ways into Low Gap, and then immediately began climbing Unaka Mtn. We began seeing more cloud cover, and the drizzle sometimes got a little closer to actual rain, but never quite there. The higher we got, the cloudier/more foggy it got, and by the time we got to the top of Unaka, the fog and cloud cover made for some really impressive scenery! I tried capturing the moment, but it’s not the same…

P1050795 P1050797 P1050798 P1050799 P1050800 P1050803At this point, I thought we had made it to the top of Unaka, so we stopped to take celebrate, and take a few group shot…

P1050806 P1050807 P1050808But we weren’t at the top… but somehow, it seemed to get even more beautiful as we continued going up…

P1050813 P1050814 P1050815This whole area was so beautiful, and there were lots of great looking spots to set up a tent… If I am ever in the area again, I will definitely plan to spend the night on top of Unaka…

After taking more pictures, we began heading down the other side of the mountain, and surprisingly, the sun began making its presence known again! Plus, we were on the down hill stroll… We weren’t far from Beauty Spot, which we were planning to make camp at for the night, and all but the last little piece was all downhill. Between the recent time on top of Unaka, now the sun shining down on us and the fact that we knew we were almost done for the day, we glided along as if we were floating…

P1050818 P1050819Before heading up to Beauty Spot, we needed to top off our water bottles, as well as our 2L water bladders. There was no water on top of Beauty Spot, so we would need to carry enough for drinks, cooking dinner and breakfast, and of course to clean our cook pot with. So, before making a short climb back up to Beauty Spot, we came to a small gap next to Red Fork Rd which had a great, reliable water source on the other side of the road. There were also a number of thru’s sitting in a clearing on the other side of the road. We talked with them before going down to top off our water, and found out that all but 1 of them were slack packing. When we got closer to the water, we dropped our packs, filled our water and had some more snacks, washing them down with more water.

P1050822 P1050825 P1050826 P1050827 P1050828 P1050830After cameling up, we hauled our packs back on for (what we thought was) the last time for the day. We crossed back over the road then continued south along the AT… or rather up the AT.

There was a pretty steep climb for a good little ways, however, sure enough, we eventually came into a clearing! However, there wasn’t any good spots that we say immediately, so we continued along the trail towards the top of the clearing. Once we arrived there, we were bummed… there were no good spots for setting up a tent in the clearing. The ground was all sloped, the grass grew in large clumps that would make sleeping on very uncomfortable, and besides that, there were briars growing everywhere. Some areas were less grown up, but nothing was suitable. We ended up walking all the way back down to where we first came out at the clearing looking for a spot, but found nothing…

So, we decided we would head back up the trail and push on farther into the woods. We had plans of staying on top of Beauty Spot, but it didn’t look like it was going to happen, besides, we only needed a spot big enough for 2 tents. So we started climbing back up.

We soon met another NOBO thru hiker and stopped to talk with him. And as it turned out, where we currently stood was not Beauty Spot… instead it was another half a mile or more down the trail! At first I didn’t believe him because the terrain, the water across the road, and the clearing all matched perfectly as it should to make that spot Beauty Spot, but he insisted that it wasn’t… So, we thanked him for the info and then we went our separate ways…

And as it turns out, we weren’t standing on Beauty Spot… But when we were, there were indeed many a great spots to set up camp! We decided to pick the very top…

P1050835 P1050839 P1050840 P1050842 11150662_899123080151677_7113974753644787258_nAfter we got things set up, we decided to go ahead and start getting dinner ready. I had brought Mac and Cheese and a bag of chicken to add to it, so it would take a little time to boil the noodles. Then of course, since I was cooking in the Jetboil MiniMo, I would also have to clean the pot… We found that the best spot to get out of the wind happened to be in front of Joe’s ZPacks Hexamid set-up, so Matthew and I carried our sit pads over, plopped down, and began preparing our meal. And then we enjoyed it!   🙂

11173415_899122916818360_8116043315326282093_n 11150350_899123003485018_7048223726769284084_n 11081273_899122806818371_5575002676703118789_n11113437_899122893485029_3532222967668870944_nAfter getting things cleaned up and squared away, Matthew decided to take a quick nap…

11167670_899123046818347_8781898134707840390_nAfter getting things settled away, Joe and I just hung out and took in the views. There were a few other hikers that came along while we were setting up and cooking, but no one else decided to stay on top of Beauty Spot with us. After a while, I called my wife to check in with her and while I was on the phone I got her to check the weather forecast. Before we left, the rain wasn’t supposed to start until Saturday afternoon, however, she informed me that the rain was moving in that night, and even worse, there were possible thunderstorms being forecast in the middle of the night for Erwin… which happens to be directly below Beauty Spot!

After talking with Joe about this, we decided to break camp and get off the bald. We were ok with a little wind (after all, some wind would have been a good test for my new MLD Duomid), but we weren’t looking to risk a thunderstorm, or the lightning that can go along with it… So, I woke my son up, and we began packing up our things.

It didn’t take us long to get things packed, and while we knew we were making the right decision, we were a bit sad to be leaving behind the bald. It was a great spot to be set-up… Despite the forecast, the sky was filled with broken-up clouds and on occasion the sun would peek around one for a bit. As well, we were looking over Erwin… I was looking forward to getting some good sunset pictures with the city lit up below…

But we hiked on. We hiked for about an hour or so and ended up at Indian Grave Gap. There were a few spots along the way that were “suitable” but there was still day light, the skies still looked pretty good, and we felt good after eating (and Matthew napping). So, we decided to push on and find a more suitable spot to call home for the night. Just before we actually reached Indian Grave Gap though, we did manage to find a good spot to stop and take in the sun setting over the mountains…


After crossing over Indian Grave Gap we came across 2 other thru hikers whom had set up their tent in a small camp spot, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough room left for both of our tents. But, we talked with the hikers and they said that there were some flat spots a little farther down the trail (heading south of course). At this point, we began turning our headlamps on to help us see down the trail…

About 15 or 20 minutes later I noticed a side trail that led off the AT, and then another not far from it. I called out to Joe and Matthew that I was going to follow it and see where it led, and thankfully, it quickly led to a large opening that was another camp spot! I called the others over and we began setting up camp, for the second time that day. By the time we got all settled in it was a little after 9 pm, so we decided to call it a night and go ahead and get ready for bed too.

The next morning I was up just before the sun started coming up. I actually slept pretty good that night, but as per my usual, it usually takes about 3 or more nights before I can sleep almost all the way through without waking up. But I still felt pretty good, however, I ended up just laying there, taking in my surroundings. I didn’t actually get up until a little after the sun had started coming up, at which point I got changed back into my hiking clothes, and then started going through the food for my son and I for the day. After sorting it out, I started boiling some water for some coffee, and then woke my son up. After he crawled out of his slumber, we pulled our sitting pads up on a log and had a cup of coffee with some doughnuts and muffins… It was a very good morning! (And no, it never even rained during the night… )

P1050847 P1050849 P1050851 11114245_899133426817309_8344486947124199512_n P1050853 P1050856 P1050857 P1050858Being that we ended up hiking about 13 miles the day before, and only had about 7 or 8 left until we reached Erwin, we were anticipating sleeping in; however, we were also anticipating rain to start around noon, so we decided to break camp at a reasonable time. While tearing down camp, we saw 2 other thru hikers hike by, so I figure they were camped pretty close to us during the night. We ended up back on the trail around 8:45 that morning.

By the time we got on the trail, the sun had already started peeking around some of the clouds ion the sky, but it wasn’t exactly sunny. We didn’t have far to hike this day, and when we left camp that morning, we really didn’t know where we would be for the night. We just knew that “they” said rain was a coming…

As it turns out, as we hiked farther away from camp, the sun rose higher in the sky, and peeked around more and more clouds… Eventually, the clouds were breaking up so that we saw large area’s of blue (which I have heard called “sucker holes”). The trail was steadily leading down, as it would for the rest of the hike into Erwin, and throughout this section, there were a number of streams that we crossed…

P1050859 P1050861P1050863P1050868P1050871P1050893P1050897After only about 3 miles in, we came across the second, and last, shelter we would encounter on this hike, the Curley Maple Gap Shelter. (Which looks to be a pretty new shelter… the boards still look new, and just a little ways north on the trail is what appears to be a foundation for an older shelter…) We stopped in here, shed our packs, dug out some snacks and got out of the sun for a bit. The day was turning out to be very nice, with a good bit of sun, and the heat! We were starting to doubt the forecast for the day… after all, “they” got the night before wrong…

Anyway, we meet another thru hiker by the name of Cowboy there, also stopping in for a lunch break. We talked with him for a bit, while several other thru hikers were going by… It was definitely a busy day on the trail! Being that the weather was so nice, and it was only about 4.5 miles to Erwin from here, we stayed in for a bit.

P1050900 P1050902 P1050903We eventually did leave the shelter. The trail from here soon after began following a creek, which it followed almost all the way to Erwin. I took the opportunity here to slow my hike down and tried to get a few more pics of the flowing waters…

P1050909 P1050911 P1050914 P1050915I was completely mesmerized by the flowing stream… I can’t describe how beautiful it is, or how it makes me feel to just stand there and gaze into it, but I know that there are others that understand what I am talking about…

Eventually the stream got a bit bigger, and the trail began crossing over it via wooden foot bridges. It was at this point that I began to realize that our hike was almost over. We had decided earlier that day to go ahead and hike out that day so that we would miss any rain that may come, and avoid hiking out the next morning in the rain. While another night in the forest would have been great, getting to go back home to my wife and daughter a little early also sounded wonderful…

P1050921 P1050922 P1050924On the way out, we continued to meet more and more hikers. And while many of them were indeed thru hikers, some were also day hikers. And surprisingly, there were a lot of German’s hiking the trail… as well as one from Holland too… It was lots of fun meeting the many different folks…

Finally, the trail took us past the blue blazed trail that leads to the Nolichucky Gorge Campgrounds, and just before that, the trail parted ways with the large stream it had been following. However, not much later the trail was reunited with another stream… a much larger stream though, the Nolichucky River. From here, it was only a short hike before we were done…

P1050925The next thing we knew, we had crossed the railroad tracks, and then we were dumped out at the bridge crossing the Nolichucky, and on the other side was Uncle Johnny’s, and the end of this hike… almost. We then had a 1 mile road walk back to the hotel to where my car was waiting…

P1050926 P1050927 11162212_899123483484970_406024168340572227_nOnce we got back to my car, we unloaded our packs for the last time, then headed straight to grab a burger for the ride home! And wouldn’t you know it… just a few miles down the road, the rain started coming down…

This was a great hike… It had more views than I was expecting, and we also happened to hit it right in between the main rain storms. But what made it really well was that I got to meet up with Joe again as it had been quite a long while since we got to hike together. And even better yet, this was the first real/big hike that my son has accompanied me on, and that was truly a blessing. He was also breaking in a new pack (ULA OHM 2.0) which he will be using on a longer, more “exotic” hike with me next summer… Anyway, he did great. I never once heard him complain, even though his pack was the heaviest (~ 19 lbs), and he really seemed to enjoy it. I enjoyed hearing his laughter from the moment we got in the car early Thursday morning until the time he fell asleep on the drive home on Sunday… Again, it was truly a blessing to have my son along for the hike, and for him to actually enjoy it…

So, as I mentioned above, I am in the process of connecting the sections of the AT that I have already hiked, and I am almost complete. I have one more section that we will be doing later this summer which will connect it all up for me all the way to Dennis Cove Rd. After this point, I will push forward, and soon after will be done with all of GA, TN and NC and into VA! So, until then, thanks for stopping by!


About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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11 Responses to AT Section Hike: Iron Mtn Gap to Erwin, TN

  1. Don Atlas says:

    I’m WAYYYY late to the party, but I just have to comment: I love your son’s orange ULA Ohm. Orange is my favorite color, and that thing looks TIGHT. If I ever get an Ohm, I’m getting it in orange like that.


  2. Pingback: 2014 Montbell Down Hugger 800 #3 Sleeping Bag Review | Stick's Blog

  3. John Keefe says:

    Chad, you mentioned passing “warrior hikers” . These are veterans who are “walking off the war.” The idea started 4 yrs ago with 2 marines. They got the idea from Earl Schaffer’s thru hike. They now hike most trails in the U.S. Great to hear that they are making their way north.

    John Kefe(Battleax)


  4. Pingback: Exped SynMat UL7 Sleeping Pad Review | Stick's Blog

  5. Jeff says:

    Stick-great report as usual. question for you: Our scout troop is doing our 4th annual AT section hike and they picked Indian Grave Gap to Carver’s gap. We have a good percentage of dedicated hammockers-would you say it would be pretty easy to hang in this area? that was the impression I got from the pix and video, but always like to check with eyes that have been there.



    • Stick says:


      I would say that you won’t have any issue hanging throughout this area… lots of trees! And if you can time it right, I would suggest hanging on the top of Unaka Mtn if possible… Very pretty with lots of great options for hanging or tenting.

      Have a great hike!



    • Jeff says:

      Great! Thanks for the info. We’ll definitely try to make that happen,


    • Jeff says:

      Stick-we ended up camping near the top of Unaka Mtn. Definitely a cool place to hang our hammocks for the night. A very neat experience for the scouts.




    • Stick says:


      That’s great to hear! Glad y’all had a great time!



  6. Rich says:

    Hi stick
    that looked great and a nice section to walk,enjoyed the video .
    Rich (uk)


  7. Great video and trip report. What a group of characters thru hiking! Cobb seemed like a great guy.


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