BACKPACKING THE AT: CARVERS GAP TO 19E

Carvers Gap to 19E – Why it’s a Favorite

Carvers Gap to 19E (officially US 19 East) is an approximate 14-mile section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) that winds through North Carolina and Tennessee.  Most AT guide books refer to it as the “most scenic section of trail”. 

Nearing elevations around 6000 feet, there are five balds with almost 360-degree views of nearby mountain ranges.  

While the daily mileage is low on this trip if you do it as a three-day hike, it’s worth the slower pace to stop and enjoy the scenery. 

Don’t mistake it for an easy weekend though. It’s a tough hike with at least three steep climbs but then ends on a fast downhill to 19 East.

It can be done as a day hike, but you’ll want more time to enjoy the views. In my opinion an overnight is perfect, but we usually do it as a weekend trip.

One thing you’ll find on this trip is that you can’t put your camera down.  Regardless of the weather, the scenery is breathtaking.

Get ready for great views of nearby Grandfather Mountain and the Black Mountains.  On a recent trip, Table Rock from Linville Gorge was in view.

Navigation and Water Sources

The best navigation tool for the Appalachian Trail is the Guthook app. The app is free, but you will pay $9.99 for each section of the map, or $34.99 for the entire AT.

Carver’s Gap is included in the section covering Standing Bear to Damascus.

The app applies crowdsourcing for conditions along the way. It’s a great option for finding out if water sources are flowing or dry. It also has a few gems on tent spots you may not have known about.

I would walk in with enough water to hike the 6 miles to Overmountain Shelter. There is water at the Stan Murray shelter, but it’s down a small hill and not always reliable.

There is usually flowing water at Overmountain Shelter. You’ll see the water on our way in and it also has blue blazes to lead the way.

After Overmountain, there is sometimes a small stream just before you exit the last wooded section of Little Hump. This is a very small stream and unreliable.

The last solid water source is at Doll Flats. It’s a bit of a hike down a blue blazed trail. It is usually flowing well.

Exiting Doll Flats, you hike down a mountain. At the bottom is a stream where you can also get water, but I’d top up at Doll Flats and have enough for the last 3 miles.

Different Seasons on the Trail

I’ve hiked Carvers Gap to 19E at least five times and in different seasons with variable weather. It’s always beautiful, although it’s a different type of beauty with overcast skies compared to bright sunshine. 

In the fall and winter, the terrain is dry and brown, but spring and summer bring out the lush greens, overgrown with tall grasses and blooming flowers. 

The weather can vary from dark clouds to puffy white clouds, and then nothing but blue skies. 

Below you’ll see a two photos hiking up Yellow Gap and taking a look back at Overmountain shelter. One was taken in spring and the other in winter.

If you’re lucky, you may get a cool breeze to help you up Hump Mountain. Unlucky hikers will sweat up a storm on blazing hot days with no break from the sun. 

Regardless, I’m hard-pressed to find another hike that so many people continually come back to enjoy.

Camping at Overmountain Shelter

One of the key attractions when hiking Carvers Gap to 19E is Overmountain Shelter. 

The shelter is a two-story red barn with plenty of room and is usually pretty clean.  On recent trips, someone had decorated the privy with little dazzle stickers.

A quick note about Overmountain Shelter

Due to safety concerns arising from structural issues, the US Forestry Service has closed the barn and asks that campers stay 40 feet away for safety. You can still camp in the meadow adjacent to the shelter, but you cannot enter or sleep in the building.

You never know what you’ll find at Overmountain. 

On my adventures out there I’ve found myself camping with thru-hikers, Boy Scout troops, had the area to myself, encountered one or two other backpackers, met a guitar-playing hiking balladeer (really – you cannot make this stuff up), and even ran into an old friend from Uwharrie. 

While it’s a fun place to be, the real reason everyone stops here is for the spectacular sunrise and sunset over the valley below.

Parking and Getting to the Trailhead at Carver’s Gap

Since it’s a one-way hike, it’s easier to park at a hostel near 19 East and shuttle to the start at Carvers Gap.

You are much better off taking a shuttle then trying to park at Carver’s Gap. There have been reports of break-ins for vehicles left overnight at the Carvers Gap lot and parking can be tight.

The area attracts a lot of day hikers with the trail to 19 E on the left of the parking area, and the trail to Roan High Knob on the right.  

My favorite place to park and grab a shuttle is The Station at 19E where Dave will take great care of you. Call to arrange your shuttle in advance since he books up quickly. It’s about 20 minutes to the trailhead at Carver’s Gap.

To increase your odds of getting a good spot at Overmountain Shelter, be sure to try and hit the trail around 2 pm.

Hiking the Trail – Heading to Overmountain

From the parking lot to Overmountain Shelter is around 6 miles.

Even though the parking lot is at 3800 feet, I always warn everyone, “We’re starting with a climb”.  The second you hit the trail, you’re going uphill to the first view at Round Bald. 

It doesn’t look particularly steep, but after a day in the car, it’s not unusual to be a bit stiff starting out. 

Once you’re at the top of Round Bald though, the view distracts from the pain as you get your camera out.

Next on the list is Jane’s Bald at 5807 feet.

The few times I’ve encountered rain or threatening weather, it’s been at this point.  There’s something about the way the mountains lie that the storms come through this particular area.

I have incredible pictures of an angry sky over gray-blue mountains from this vista.  I also have great pictures of the Black Mountains in the distance. 

If you’re traveling with a group that hikes at different speeds, Stan Murray shelter is a good place to regroup. It’s the first sign of level land, and easy to spot since the trail goes right in front of it. 

When you’re ready, finish out the two miles to Overmountain Shelter.  Luckily the terrain continues to remain flat so you should make good time. 

Setting up Camp at Overmountain

When you reach the side trail to Overmountain Shelter, before you head down, take a look at a little post on your left which has information about the Overmountain Victory Historic Trail. 

It’s an interesting story. Even more exciting is what looks like a bullet hole in the middle of it. 

Hike down to Overmountain Shelter and settle in for the evening. Water is nearby and there’s a privy on the other side of the barn.

Tents in the meadow have a spectacular view of the sunset at night and sunrise in the morning. 

Hiking From Overmountain to Hump Mountain

In the morning, since it’s not many miles, you can take your time over breakfast. It also helps to give the tents time to dry. Thanks to morning dew, they tend to be a little wet.

Heading out, the first thing you have to do is hike up a hill to get back to the AT.  It’s a short, steep climb but then continues through Yellow Gap as you start towards Little Hump. 

Halfway up the hill, looking back, you can see Overmountain Shelter from the trail.  It looks so small and peaceful from afar. 

The day is a mix of level terrain and climbs.  The two big climbs are Little Hump and then it’s parent, Hump Mountain. 

Little Hump

Little Hump is interesting as you climb through open spaces, then head into wooded areas, only to exit in another open space. 

Every time I hike this trail, I get déjà vu in this area. You walk through a meadow then enter a wooded area. Once you exit the woods, you’re back to another meadow with another wooded area on the other side.

In the last wooded area, just before you reach Hump Mountain, there’s a little creek that crosses the trail which is a good place to stock up on water.

As you wind around Little Hump, you can see Hump Mountain, teasing you with what’s to come.  When you get there, just put one foot in front of the other and keep looking down. 

Hump Mountain

Hump Mountain is no joke. It doesn’t seem too bad of a climb when you look at it, but it’s unrelenting sun. There is no cover and, during the summer, the heat can wear you down.

Be prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen. A hat isn’t a bad idea either. Take your time and rest when you need to because the view is worth it.

Reaching the top of Hump Mountain, you’re rewarded with spectacular views of Grandfather Mountain, and the surrounding areas of Pisgah National Forest to the right. 

On the left is a small town which I think is Roan Mountain.  In front is a wooded area that leads to Doll Flats, your stop for the night. 

I’ve heard that some people have managed to camp on top of Hump Mountain.  It’s completely exposed so the weather has to be darn near perfect. 

I haven’t been able to pull this off thanks to rain, high winds, and threats of thunderstorms, but maybe one day I’ll get to experience it. 

The top of Hump Mountain is a great place to stop for lunch or a snack.  At this point, you’ve made it, there are no more climbs. 

Heading to Doll Flats for the Night

It’s downhill to Doll Flats, but the trail is rocky in this section and can slow you down, especially if it’s wet. 

On one occasion, trail runners passed us walking fast, but not running.  Trail runners are pretty sure-footed so for them to slow down, you know its tough terrain. 

You could keep going and push the final 3 miles to 19 East, but it’s a great camping area and nice views. If you’re out for a relaxing weekend, this is a great place to stop.

Doll Flats is another beautiful meadow overlooking a valley.  If the grass is low enough, you can pitch your tent in the meadow.

Settling in at Doll Flats

The wooded camping area at Doll Flots is nice with plenty of space for a large group. I’ve been there with 14 tents and there was room for more.

There’s an area cleared for a fire with large rocks convenient for sitting and taller rocks behind it.  Most backpackers here tend to stand at the taller rocks to eat since they’re perfect table height. 

One of my favorite things about Doll Flats is the sign at the edge of the woods saying “Leaving NC” making you wonder, “When did we enter North Carolina?” 

Since the trail weaves in and out of North Carolina and Tennessee, it’s hard to tell where we’ve been, but at least you know what state you’re in now.

A solid source of water is nearby and there are good trees for bear hangs.  On my last two visits, I got my rope over a 25-foot branch. 

I know it was 25 feet because my 50-foot rope just made it up and over with both ends barely touching the ground.  I was kinda proud of myself and made other people come to check it out so I have witnesses. 

Savor your last night around the fire. It’s an easy hike out in the morning so you won’t need to rush. 

Heading Down to 19 East

The trail to 19 E is down and fast. You’ll be through it in no time. It’s not particularly scenic so most backpackers just get it done.

When you reach the road, it’s a little weird to hear the cars after being so entrenched in the mountains for the past 2.5 days. 

Some of the shuttle drivers will come get you for free at the trail head if they’re available. Check before you head out.

A Little History About the Area

Two Sections of Roan Mountain

*Carvers Gap divides Roan Mountain into two sections.  This hike covers a portion of the eastern section called Grassy Ridge. 

The area has the distinction of being the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains at approximately seven miles and includes three peaks: Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald. 

While we don’t usually venture up to Grassy Ridge Bald due to time constraints, if you have time, it’s worth it. 

Grassy Ridge Bald tops out at 6,189 feet making it one of the highest grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains.  You can see Grandfather Mountain to the east and the Black Mountains to the south. 

Overmountain Men History

I briefly mentioned the Overmountain Victory Historic Trail and there’s a story behind it. 

During the American Revolution, British General Charles Cornwallis dispatched a band of Loyalists under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson to raid Western Carolina. 

A group of frontiersmen from the mountains, now known as the Overmountain Men, assembled to counter this threat.

The trail commemorates their march towards South Carolina where they defeated Ferguson’s forces at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Adding further interest to the story, it was difficult to procure gunpowder in the United States during this time.  Mary Patton and her husband supplied the men with five hundred pounds of black powder from their Gap Creek powder mill.

Ginseng, Iron Ore and Logging

The history of the area takes another odd turn when the three Perkins brothers were searching for ginseng in the area and noted iron ore deposits. 

This led to the creation of the Cranberry Mine which extracted ore for centuries until forced to close by the Great Depression. Loggers took over in the 19th century. You can see what is leftover from the steam engine built in the gap between Round and Jane Bald to move lumber.   

The area is now known for its attachment to the Appalachian Trail and many thru-hikers come through in late May through June. 

Tips for Hiking Carvers Gap to 19E

When hiking Carvers Gap to 19E, locals and regulars alike all recommend you start at Carvers Gap.  There are at least two local hostels that allow you to park overnight and will shuttle you to the trailhead. 

As mentioned above, we like to use The Station at 19E.

Carvers Gap is a popular area for day hikers and the trailhead can become crowded. Many day hikers visit Jane Bald or Grassy Ridge for the day.  You’ll leave most of this behind as you exit Jane Bald and continue to Stan Murray shelter.

Overmountain Shelter is a popular overnight location for younger locals looking to get away for an evening, boy scout troops, and youth groups so it can get crowded. 

You may need to be flexible on how you pitch your tent and accept you won’t get a perfect spot. 

The weather turns on a dime.  This section of trail is close to Grandfather mountain which is known for making its own weather.  Forget the forecast, you need to be prepared for anything. 

I’ve had beautiful, picture-perfect days and I’ve also been pelted with over 40 mph gusts of wind all night.  It’s part of what makes this area special. 

*Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roan_Mountain_(Roan_Highlands)

Articles You May Like

Click to Share

2 Responses

  • Do you remember, is there anywhere to hang a bear bag with food near Overmountain shelter? Or would we be required to get a bear canister? Thank you.

    • Hi Dan — there’s plenty of room for bear hangs near Overmountain. We usually hang down off the Victory Trail which is the gravel road leading up to it. Should be some good options there. I wouldn’t bother with the weight of a bear canister.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *