Carvers Gap to 19E – Why we like it:
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 at least three steep climbs but then ends on a fast downhill to 19E.
One thing you’ll find on this trip is that you can’t put your camera down. Just when you think you’ve gotten all the pictures you need, twenty steps later there’s an even better view.
Get ready for great views of nearby Grandfather Mountain and also the Black Mountains. On a recent trip, Table Rock from Linville Gorge was in view.
Carvers Gap to 19E – 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.
I’ve seen it dry and brown, green and lush, overgrown with grasses as tall as me, and blooming with flowers. Sometimes it has dark clouds, other times puffy white clouds, and then nothing but blue skies.
There are times cool breezes helped me up Hump Mountain, and others where I’ve sweated up a storm on blazing hot days with no break from the sun.
Regardless, I’m hard-pressed to find another hike that’s such fun and filled with so many rewards.
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 usually pretty clean. On recent trips, someone had decorated the privy with little dazzle stickers.
You never know what you’ll find at Overmountain.
We’ve camped with thru-hikers, Boy Scout troops, had the area to ourselves, encountered one or two other backpackers, met with a guitar-playing hiking balladeer, and even encountered 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.
Starting the Adventure – The First Balds:
We always park at 19E and catch a shuttle to Carvers Gap. We’ll usually have a 2 pm start on Friday at Carvers Gap and hike the 6 miles to Overmountain Shelter.
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 we make it to the top of Round Bald though, the view distracts from the pain and the cameras come out.
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.
With a little prodding, the group continues to Jane Bald and more views, then on to the Stan Murray shelter which is the first sign of level ground. I like to stop at Stan Murray shelter to regroup and check in with everyone.
If there are no issues, we’ll continue the next two miles to Overmountain Shelter. Luckily the terrain continues to remain flat which is usually appreciated at this point.
Finishing up Day 1 at Overmountain:
When we reach the side trail to Overmountain Shelter, it’s fun to take a look at a little post to the left with 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.
We’ll hike down to Overmountain Shelter and settle in for the evening. There’s usually a little roaming around and discussion on staying in the shelter versus pitching a tent in the meadow. (NOTE: As of August 2019, Overmountain Shelter has been closed due to unsafe conditions. The meadow area remains open for tent camping).
Tents in the meadow have a spectacular view of the sunset at night and sunrise in the morning.
Heading out on Day 2:
In the morning, since we’re not in a hurry, the group can take our time with 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 is interesting as you climb through open spaces, then head into wooded areas, only to exit in another open space. I keep getting déjà vu in this area as I exit a wooded area and could swear I was right back in the same open area I just left.
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.
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, our 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.
We usually stop for lunch at the top of Hump Mountain and take our time. At this point, we’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 will 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.
Doll Flats is a beautiful meadow overlooking a valley. If the grass is low enough, you can pitch your tent in the meadow.
When we were there in June, the flora in the meadow was taller than me so we all camped in the wooded area on the far side.
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 plenty of room for more.
There’s an area cleared for a fire with large rocks convenient for sitting. We tend to stand at the rocks to eat since they’re perfect table height making it easy to cook.
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 we now know where the border is.
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 on this last trip made other people come to check it out so I have witnesses.
After a great evening around the fire, we head to bed and then take our time again in the morning.
Carvers Gap to 19E – The Last Leg:
It’s a fast three miles or so to 19E, straight downhill and then level. 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.
The lucky thing for me is that it’s an easy three-hour drive and I can pop up most anytime I feel like an escape.
A little history:
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.
It 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, gunpowder was not easily procured in the United States during this time. Mary Patton and her husband at their Gap creek powder mill supplied the men with five hundred pounds of black powder.
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 and 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.
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. 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.