Appalachian autumn invites foliage viewing

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff
jlassiter@starhq.com

  It's time to turn off the air conditioner, open a few windows, take a deep breath and experience another Appalachian autumn. With a few trees already beginning to turn, the time to catch a glimpse of the brilliant fall colors is just around the corner.
  Before the heavy rains of Frances and Ivan, the region experienced a mild drought, which might be the reason for some of the leaves changing on the high ridges of some of the area mountains, said District Ranger Candace Allen. Allen peered out her office window at the soon-to-be-colored leaves.
  "Fall is definitely here," she said.
  With the Cherokee National Forest running through portions of Carter County, there are plenty of places to admire nature's natural renewal process. "The peak season typically begins the third week in October," said Allen. "But leaves in the higher elevations will begin to change sooner."
  Allen recommends several trails within the Cherokee National Forest for hiking. "The Appalachian Trail is always a favorite," she said. The Appalachian Trail runs through Carter County and Roan Mountain. Any portion of this trail is kept in wilderness condition, and little maintenance is done to keep the trail in its natural state. The national scenic trail is a rugged narrow footpath that stretches 2,150 miles from Georgia to Maine.
  Iron Mountain is another trail for adventurers looking for remote wilderness. According to Allen, this section of trail runs parallel with the Appalachian Trail along the ridge of Iron Mountain. Allen said there is limited water supply so anyone interested in tackling this hike needs to be prepared for a true wilderness experience.
  Other trails that Allen recommends for fall foliage sightseeing are: Laurel Fork Trail (hike/bike), Little Milligan Trail (hike), Holston Mountain Trail (hike), Morrell Trail (hike/horse), Backbone Rock (hike), Backbone Falls (hike) and Gentry Creek Falls (hike).
  For those just wanting to take a scenic drive through some of the winding mountain roads within the county, the Elizabethton/Carter County Tourism Council recommends some of popular driving tours.
  -- Roan Mountain (1+ hour) Follow U.S. Highway 19-E to Roan Mountain community. Turn onto Highway 143 to Roan Mountain State Park - follow 143 to the "Top of the Roan" and return on the same route. There are several pull-off areas that overlook Elizabethton and Carter County.
  -- Watauga Lake (1 hour) Follow 321/19E/67 to Hampton, turn left in Hampton continuing on Highway 321/67. Travel past the bridge to the Butler community and return on the same route.
  -- Tiger Creek (1+ hours) Follow 19E toward Roan Mountain. Turn onto Tiger Creek Road (approximately 1 mile past old rock school left). This route circles by Ripshin Lake back to 19-E.
  This year, a view of the leaves from Watauga Lake has been added to the top tours of the fall for Carter County. Lake Shore Marina and Fish Springs Marina are offering pontoon rentals. For more information, call the Elizabethton/Carter County Tourism Council at (423) 547-3852 or log onto www.tourelizabethton.com.