A short 1.8 mile ride along US321 separates the trail head at the Shook Branch Recreation Area from the Laurel Falls Trailhead for the Hampton Blueline Trail. I parked my car at Shook Branch and rode up over the hill. The ride was pretty easy and just had to coast once I reached the top. In all, it took me only 15 minutes and saved a pretty long road walk.
I locked up the bike and headed up the Blue-Blazed Hampton Blueline Trail. This trail is heavily used by folks going up to the magnificent Laurel Falls further up the Laurel Gorge. The trail passed along side the Laurel Creek and there were some spectacular rocks, especially the Folded Rock along the creek a very large cliff with nice layers exposed. I reached the AT about a mile up the trail and started my ascent.
The trail followed many switchbacks up the side of the gorge to reach the ridge above. There were many rocks and the trail was pretty rough. This trail was not nearly as well used as the one in the bottom of the gorge. There were very nice views of the gorge as I ascended and it was a lot of hard work, even with just a daypack.
After nearly 2000ft of ascent, I finally reached the Pond Flats, a relatively level spot near the summit of the mountain. There were several nice campsites here with springs and water available. It would be nice to return here on an overnight hike. I decided to track down a Geocache that was located at the nearby summit of the mountain. This required travel off the trail but the bushwhacking was not bad an I managed to find the cache even though my GPS had decided it did not want to work. I think I was only the 5th or 6th person to log this one even though it has been in place for over 2 years.
The descent down the mountain was pretty easy and the trail was well graded and not too rocky. I am glad I decided to go the way I did, because it would not have been quite as nice to do it the opposite way – descending down the rocky side of the Laurel Gorge. There were some very nice views of Lake Watauga on the trail down. This hike would have been very nice later in the fall or during the winter without leaves on the trees.
The miles passed quickly and before I knew it I was back at the car and along the shore of Watauga Lake. I drove down to the other trail head and picked up my bike and headed home. A great trip today!
1.7 miles biked – 7.2 miles hiked – 6.2 new AT miles