Appalachian Trail: Jones Meadow to Whiterock Cliff, Blackstack Cliffs, and Big Firescald Knob Views, Greeneville, Tennessee
The scenic crest of the Bald Mountains that straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina border south of Greeneville, TN, features a set of spectacular vistas in the vicinity of the Appalachian Trail. The views actually begin even before you leave your car as you arrive at the beautiful Jones Meadow with a panoramic vista of Camp Creek Bald and Blackstack Cliffs. Two excellent vistas are accessed by a very short, easy walk from the parking area: Whiterock Cliff facing south into North Carolina and Blackstack Cliffs facing north into Tennessee. The Appalachian Trail then continues onto a new section, which scrambles along the knife-edge ridge-crest for over a mile across Big Firescald Knob, affording several outstanding 360-degree panoramic vistas. On your return trip, you may choose to follow the alternate bad-weather AT route, a little-used pathway on the north flanks of Big Firescald Knob that adds variety to the hike. This hike occurred on Friday, April 27th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Appalachian Trail from Jones Meadow over Big Firescald Knob, taking side trails to Whiterock Cliff and Blackstack Cliffs along the way. Rather than retracing my steps along the Big Firescald Knob ridge-crest, I would return along the AT bad-weather bypass. This hike was the third of six hikes that I did during a four-day trip to the mountains of northeast Tennessee and northwest North Carolina.
R/T Length of Trail: 4.7 Miles
Duration of Hike: 2:20 plus 1 hours and 40 minutes of stopping and sunset photography
Type of Hike: Lasso
Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 1056 Feet
Pros: Easy to moderate trail to all views; several spectacular vistas
Points of Interest: Whiterock Cliff Views - 6 stars; Blackstack Cliffs Views - 7 stars; Big Firescald Knob Views - 10 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: Appalachian Trail - White; AT Bad-Weather Bypass - Blue; Side Trails to Jones Meadow, Whiterock Cliff, and Blackstack Cliffs - Blue
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter
Beginning Point: Jones Meadow Trailhead
Directions from Greeneville, TN: From the intersection of US 321/Main Street and TN 107/70 Asheville Highway on the southwest side of Greeneville, follow TN 107/70 South for 9.4 miles. Then, stay straight on TN 70 as TN 107 leaves right. In another 5.8 miles, turn left onto Viking Mountain Road. Follow Viking Mountain Road for 8.3 miles to the dead-end parking area at Jones Meadow (ignore the rough road that leaves right to the towers atop Camp Creek Bald). Part of Viking Mountain Road is unpaved, but it's suitable for all passenger vehicles.
Click the link below to download a .GPX file with a track of this hike.
The Big Firescald Knob area was pretty high on my list for my northeast Tennessee trip, as it was known to have some of the region's most spectacular views. I had a tough time deciding how to approach it, however. I could've hiked a 10-mile loop from the Big Creek area on the North Carolina side, or I could've hiked an even longer loop from the Dry Creek area on the Tennessee side. The loop from the TN side could've let me bag Margarette Falls and Bailey Falls on the same hike. Ultimately though, I decided to split the day up into two hikes. I went to Margarette Falls and Bailey Falls first, and then, I chose the shortest and easiest version of the hike to Big Firescald Knob - starting from the high-elevation Jones Meadow Trailhead.
The Jones Meadow parking area is at the meadow's highest point, which has nice views of the Greeneville valley to the north and Blackstack Cliffs just to the east. To reach the trail, begin walking back along the access road. In 400 feet, turn left on a jeep road, blue-blazed as an AT access trail. The road drops below the meadow and makes a short but steep climb to the top of Little Firescald Knob. Just past the top is a small clearing - one access path goes straight and one goes right. Assuming that Whiterock Cliff is your first destination, turn right on the first blue-blazed access path. Reach the Appalachian Trail at 0.4 miles. While you'll later follow the AT to the left, turn right (southbound) onto it for now to see Whiterock Cliff. Just a tenth of a mile later, reach the usually-signed spur trail to Whiterock Cliff on the left. The spur path descends steeply for 250 feet to Whiterock Cliff at 0.55 miles. The sheer drop-off at Whiterock Cliff provides a really nice view down the East Prong Hickey Fork valley and southward into North Carolina. Several lines of mountains are in the view, including the Black Mountains on the horizon.
Return to the Appalachian Trail from Whiterock Cliff and begin following it northbound toward Big Firescald Knob. You'll pass the two side trails to Jones Meadow and reach the signed Blackstack Cliffs side trail shortly thereafter at 0.75 miles. The 250-foot side trail climbs briefly reaching before suddenly popping out of a rhododendron tunnel at the spectacular panoramic view from Blackstack Cliffs. To the left is Jones Meadow (with your car still visible at the parking area) and Camp Creek Bald with its towers. Straight ahead, the Bald Mountains slope down to the broad flatland of the Nolichucky River valley, extending toward Greeneville at the horizon. A neat feature of the Blackstack Cliffs view is the rock pillars rising out of the brush to the left. Blackstack Cliffs is a great sunset-viewing spot. Due to its proximity to the parking lot, you could watch the sunset here and yet still manage to get back to your car before dark.
Return to the AT and keep following it northbound. Stradding the TN/NC state line, the trail descends through a particularly muddy section and reaches Bearwallow Gap at 1.0 miles. To the right, the Jerry Miller Trail departs into the Shelton-Laurel Backcountry Area on the right and reaches a trailhead on FR 111 at Big Creek in 4.5 miles. The Jerry Miller Trail, combined with the Fork Ridge Trail, makes for a great loop access to Big Firescald Knob. This hike bears left on the Appalachian Trail, reaching a junction with the blue-blazed alternate route in 200 feet. The alternate route used to be the actual Appalachian Trail, until a new trail was blazed along the very scenic ridge. The alternate route, which bears left, is used during times of bad weather, when it would be dangerous to remain on the exposed ridgeline of Big Firescald Knob. This hike bears right on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail and later returns along the alternate route.
The Appalachian Trail begins an easy ascent to Big Firescald Knob, mostly staying near the ridge. There are a couple short rocky stretches. At 1.7 miles, the Appalachian Trail suddenly starts to break out into the open, right away passing a stunning panoramic view. Only 250 feet farther is the summit of Big Firescald Knob at 1.75 miles. The rock outcrop at the top is known as Howard's Rock, honoring master trail builder Howard McDonald. Howard's Rock has outstanding views both north toward the Greeneville flatlands and south into the heart of the North Carolina mountains. Once again, the Black Mountains can easily be traced along the horizon on a clear day.
Past Howard's Rock, the Appalachian Trail continues to trace the rocky ridgeline, passing several more views - though none are as spectacular as the Howard's Rock view. This trail section features several mild rock scrambles and short climbs. Around 2.2 miles, the trail re-enters the woods and starts descending moderately toward Fox Cabin Gap. At 2.6 miles, reach the other end of the alternate AT in Fox Cabin Gap. The AT continues north toward more views around Big Butt Mountain and Buzzard Rock in Rocky Fork State Park. However, if you're here for just the short hike that I did, turn sharply left on the blue-blazed alternate AT.
Most of the alternate Appalachian Trail is gentle uphill, interrupted by occasional level stretches. However, it's still a very easy and pleasant trail that meanders along the slopes of Big Firescald Knob. There are nice seasonal views northward in places. On my visit, the alternate trail was considerably less muddy than the primary route of the AT. You'll reach the end of the alternate route at 4.05 miles in Bearwallow Gap. Stay straight - it's simply a matter of retracing your steps to Jones Meadow from here. You may use the second access path to Jones Meadow. You'll return to the Jones Meadow parking area at 4.7 miles, concluding the hike.
0.0 - Jones Meadow
0.55 - Whiterock Cliff
0.8 - Blackstack Cliffs
1.0 - Bearwallow Gap
1.75 - Howard's Rock
2.6 - Fox Cabin Gap
4.05 - Bearwallow Gap
4.7 - Jones Meadow
Hike out and back from Jones Meadow to just Whiterock Cliff and Blackstack Cliffs - 1.4 Miles
Hike just out and back from Jones Meadow to Whiterock Cliff, Blackstack Cliffs, and Big Firescald Knob (Howard's Rock) - 3.2 Miles
Consider combining the Big Firescald Knob hike with a hike to Margarette Falls on West Fork Dry Creek the same day.
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Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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