Appalachian Trail (AT)
Section: Unicoi Gap to Dicks Creek Gap
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Length: 16.0 miles (one-way)
Blaze Color: White
Hiked on: May 24th, 25th, and 26th, 2008
The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs approximately 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine.
The section described here, Unicoi Gap to Dick's Creek Gap, begins
approximately 51 trail miles north of the AT's southern terminus atop
Springer Mountain in Georgia. This section of the AT carries hikers through
some beautiful forests and past some scenic mountaintop vistas but it can be
physically challenging at times. There are not many places where there are
easy grades. In fact, the trail seemed to be going up or down moderate to
strenuous grades most of time. This can make it very challenging for hikers
carrying heavy packs.
Starting from Unicoi Gap, the trail wastes no time in carrying hikers up
Rocky Mountain. You will reach the intersection of the AT and the Rocky
Mountain Trail about 0.8 miles from Unicoi Gap. The peak of Rocky Mountain
is at mile point 1.3 at an elevation of 4,028 feet. The trail gains over
1,000 feet in elevation from Unicoi Gap to the top of Rocky Mountain and it
grinds steadily up for the entire distance. It is definitely a shock to the
respiratory system if you have not hiked in a while or are carrying a heavy
pack. Only a short distance past the summit you will have a couple of
excellent views of the mountains to the south.
The trail then descends down Rocky Mountain as quickly as it ascended. From
the top of Rocky Mountain to Indian Grave Gap the trail loses over 800 feet
in elevation. At mile 2.5, the AT reaches Indian Grave Gap and a gravel
road. This gap is also the start of the blue-blazed Andrew's Cove Trail. The
trail then begins the long ascent to the top of Tray Mountain. At mile point
3.1 the trail crosses a gravel road and then continues on the opposite side.
Approximately 0.3 miles beyond the gravel road you will reach a blue-side
trail on the left which leads to a spring. The spring, which was a good
water source when I hiked this section, is a short 3 to 4 minute walk on the
side trail. Immediately after crossing a gravel road on the side trail, look
to the right and you will see the spring at the beginning of a small stream
which it creates. You should definitely fill up your water bottles at this
spring. The next water source is at Tray Mountain Shelter which is almost
two miles farther.
After leaving the water side trail, the AT continues its climb to the top of
Tray Mountain. At mile point 3.9, the trail will lead you to a nice
campground with a nice view of Tray Mountain far above. Continuing ahead for
about 0.2 miles, you will reach the parking area for Tray Mountain. The view
from Tray Mountain is one of the best around and many people drive to this
point on Tray Mountain Road and walk the remaining 0.8 miles to the peak.
The peak of Tray Mountain, for you, is at mile point 4.9. You are greeted by
a fantastic vista when you reach the rocky top of Tray Mountain.
Approximately 0.1 miles beyond Tray Mountain's peak you will see a
campground on the right. You will see a narrow, unmaintained trail leading
to the south. This trail leads to another outcrop about 0.2 miles away with
views as nice, if not nicer, than Tray Mountain's summit. A friend of mine
told me about this view while we were on the AT and I was less than
enthusiastic about adding further distance to an already physically
challenging hike. I was really glad we walked to the outcrop when we got
there. The view was amazing and we spent about 30 minutes taking in the view
and relaxing. You can also see Lake Burton in the distance. To the left of
Lake Burton you will be able to see some of the terrain you will be
traversing for the remainder of this section of the AT.
Back out on the AT the trail descends toward the side trail that leads to
Tray Mountain Shelter. The turn for the side trail is at mile point 5.3 and
the actual shelter is about 0.1 miles further ahead. A short walk behind the
shelter is a spring that was flowing at little more than a trickle when I
visited. Usually shelters are built near water sources that are reliable and
this is probably no exception.
After leaving the shelter and rejoining the AT, the footpath descends
quickly on the backside of Tray Mountain. At mile seven, the trail reaches
Steeltrap Gap and a side trail to water. I am not certain how reliable the
water source is at this point. Continuing ahead, the trail will carry you up
and away from Steeltrap Gap but it is only a short climb compared to some of
the previous climbs. The trail then flattens out for about 0.7 miles until
it begins a descent down to the Blue Ridge Swag at mile point 8.8. The trail
then undulates over a short, but steep, hill before it once again descends.
This time the trail reaches Sassafras Gap at mile point 9.9. Sassafras Gap
is also another opportunity to refill your water bottles.
Leaving Sassafras, the trail continues ahead to Addis Knob and another
chance to refill your water bottle at mile 10.7. In my opinion, I believe
the next mile should be called "The Longest Mile." The trail gains about 800
feet in elevation from Addis Gap to Kelly Knob. There is only one place
along the way that is flat. If you are carrying a heavy pack, this mile is
grueling. After reaching the top you realize that you will only one more
significant climb until this section ends at Dick's Creek Gap. The descent
on the backside of Kelly Knob is very pleasant and you will have an
occasional view of mountains to the north. At mile 12.6, the trail reaches
Deep Gap and the side trail that leads to Deep Gap Shelter. If you are
staying at the shelter it is about 0.3 miles down the side trail. A little
over halfway to the shelter you will also see a spring on the right side of
the trail. Deep Gap Shelter is one of the nicest that I have seen on the
trail and the whole area was very well maintained. There is even a latrine
about 100 yards behind the shelter. A picture of the shelter can be seen in
the slide show on the right-hand pane.
Leaving the shelter and continuing ahead to Dick's Creek Gap, the trail
gains about 300 feet in elevation by mile 13.5 where you will reach a sign
which simply reads, "Vista". There is a very short side trail on the right
which leads to a nice vista and a campground. After leaving the vista and
getting back on the main trail, the footpath descends about 1,200 feet down
to Dick's Creek Gap at mile 16.
The trail drawn in blue running north to south on the left of the
map on the right-hand pane is the Jack's Knob Trail.
The very short trail drawn in yellow at the bottom of the map is the
Anna Ruby Falls Trail and the trail drawn in blue next to it is the Smith
Creek Trail. The two blue trails
near the Unicoi Gap trailhead are the Rocky Mountain Trail and the Andrew's
Cove Trail. The Rocky Mountain
Trail runs in a northwest to southeast direction on the map and the Andrew's
Cove Trail runs in a northeast to southwest direction.
The trail drawn in white is the AT and the section described above is
located between the westernmost and easternmost balloons.
Many of the maps on this website use a "Geolocation" feature. This feature attempts to find your current geographic position and pinpoint that location on the map. This feature may be useful if you are accessing the map via smart phone and you want to determine your location in relation to the mapped trails. The information obtained from the "Geolocate" feature should not be a replacement for common sense and you should not rely on its accuracy because the information obtained can be in error and beyond control of this website. If you do not wish for the maps to find your current location on the map, do not press the "Geolocate" button at the top-right corner of the maps.
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