Flint Rock – Holston Mountain Lookout Tower

Overlooking the Holston Valley from Flint Rock

Overlooking the Holston Valley from Flint Rock

Holston Mountain is one of our most recognized mountain ridgelines in the east TN/southwest VA area as it spans approximately 28 miles from Elizabethton, Tennessee to Damascus, Virginia.  It’s the prominent mountain visible while looking south on most of the I-81 corridor from the Tri-Cities to Abingdon.  The highpoint of the mountain is Holston High Point (elevation 4280′) located on the south-western side of the ridge with a FAA beacon at the summit.  The second highest location is Rye Patch Knob (with an antenna farm of many of our local TV and radio towers), and the third highest point is Holston High Knob (elevation 4136′), with an old lookout tower at it’s summit… transplanted there from Mississippi in 1943 after the old wooden tower burned down.  It was supposedly staffed until 1991.

Beginning of the Hike at Forest Road #56A

Beginning of the hike at forest road #56A

Vista of the Holston Valley from the Lookout Tower

Vista of the Holston Valley from the Lookout Tower

Lookout Tower at Holston High Knob

Lookout Tower at Holston High Knob

This hike covers the middle regions of the mountain’s ridgeline, beginning on forest road #56A which takes you by the lookout tower.  I wouldn’t recommend climbing this tower, and it is officially closed to public access.  Some of the steps are missing and much of the protective fencing is down.  However, I did partially climb it, giving me views of the Holston Valley to the north, and the Stoney Creek valley and the Iron Mountain ridgeline  to the southeast.

Some Missing Steps on the Tower

Rickety Climbing on the Tower

View of Iron Mountain from the Tower

View of Iron Mountain from the Tower

Bristol Motor Speedway in the Distance

Bristol Motor Speedway in the Distance

Following the tower you will then descend north-eastward down to Flint Mill Gap via the blue-blazed Holston Mountain Trail.  This is a single-track trail that is well defined in most places, but may be difficult to see in leaf covered conditions, but if you follow the blazes you shouldn’t have any trouble.

Flint Mill Gap

Flint Mill Gap

Vista of Holston Valley from Flint Rock

Vista of Holston Valley from Flint Rock

More Views from Flint Rock

More Views from Flint Rock

At Flint Mill Gap, you will leave the Holston Mountain Trail and head westward on the Flint Mill Trail (there is good signage there) for another half-mile.  You will cross a high mountain bog and stream with a nice campsite, and soon after seeing a horse hitching post on your right, you will dead-end at a magnificent, and somewhat unknown overlook called Flint Rock.  This rock outcrop cliff offers stunning views of the entire Holston Valley… overlooking prominent locations such as South Holston Lake, I-81, the City of Bristol, Tri-Cities Airport, and Bristol Motor Speedway.

This is a beautiful hike of about 7 miles round-trip.  After visiting the tower and Flint Rock, be sure to stop by The Blue Hole waterfalls on your drive down the mountain!  You will pass right by it, and it’s a short distance from the parking area.  Please see the HIKE PLANNER below for specific driving and trail directions.




Excellent day-hike for any time of year, but would be enhanced by fall foliage.


Historical Lookout Tower, Flint Rock overlook.  The Holston Mountain Trail was also a segment the old Appalachian Trail at one time.

Moderate (this is a rating of of how strenuous the hike is by elevation gain).  Less than 1000′ elevation gain but has some steep areas.

Take Route 19E toward Elizabethton, TN. Turn onto Rt. TN 91 toward Stoney Creek. Travel 10 miles on TN 91 (north), and turn left onto Panhandle Road (look for the signs that say “Blue Hole and Low Gap Campground).  At 0.9 mile Panhandle Road turns to gravel and become forest road #56.  The Blue Hole parking area will be on your left soon after it turns to gravel.  If you wish, visit the Blue Hole, then continue on up FS #56  for a total of 4.4 miles from the turn at TN 91.  The forest road will take a sharp left at 4.4 miles, but immediately before that turn there is a pull out on your right. Park here, and you will see the gated forest road with a sign designating FS #56A.  This is the trail-head.

Begin on the double-track forest road, FS 56A.  At 0.2 mile another (less maintained) forest road will veer off to the left, but continue to the right on the main forest road.  It will gently ascend with a couple of switchbacks.  At 1.0 mile the forest road will make a sharp left turn where you will arrive at the lookout tower. After visiting the tower, there is a sign for the Holston Mountain Trail near that left turn in the forest road.  Continue on the Holston Mountain Trail, which is a single-track, blue-blazed trail.  You will mostly descend from here for the next 1.8 miles until you reach a gap.  Climb up to a knob at the 2.1 mile mark, and then you will begin descending again.  The trail is steep here in some points.  At 3.0 miles you will arrive at Flint Mill Gap.  This gap is a convergence of forest roads, the Holston Mountain Trail, and the Flint Mill Trail.  The Holston Mountain Trail continues straight, but you will take the Flint Mill Trail to the left.  There are signs there indicating the way to Fill Mill Trail.  In another two tenths of a mile (at the 3.2 mile mark) you will cross a stream and bog with a campsite.  Continue on another 0.3 miles (at the 3.5 mile mark) and you will arrive at Flint Rock.  To the left you will see the Lookout Tower atop the ridge you just descended.  Climb up a few few onto Flint Rock for amazing views of the Holston Valley.

Gear & Tips:

Standard day-hiking gear..

Approximately 7.0 miles (round-trip).


4-6 hours.

Out and Back.

Rating (1-5):


Rating (based on a 1-50 scale):


Crossings (one way):

One – easy.


Don’t try to climb the fire tower.  Some steps and protective fencing are missing, some boards are rotten



Categories: Day-hike, Historical, Lakes, Look-out Tower, Rock Formations, Summits, Vistas | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

Laurel Fork Trail


Upper Laurel Fork Falls

The Laurel Fork Trail is located just upstream from the very popular trek on the Appalachian Trail to Laurel Falls.  Designated as Cherokee National Forest Trail #39 this hike, however, is much more secluded, adventurous, and extremely remote. It requires numerous and often difficult stream fords, deep and muddy areas dammed up by beavers, some navigational skills (with limited blazing), and deteriorating trail conditions the further you go upstream … with numerous blowdowns and excessive vegetation.  But if you’re willing to get wet and tough it out, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful backcounty in east Tennessee, including four magnificent waterfalls. Read more »

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Grayson Highlands Backpacking: A.T./Pine Mountain Loop

This is a loop hike in the Grayson Highlands that I tend to do about once per year, so I’ve posted it a couple times before, but not with all the snowy conditions that I experienced this time.

My daughter Taylor and her boyfriend Cameron joined me over their spring break around the end of March.  And the weather surprised us with with up to two feet of snow in many areas, with very icy conditions.  It made for some tough hiking to say the least.

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Iron Mtn Backpacking: TN91 to Wilbur Dam Road

Bill at Nick Grindstaff Monument

I finished up a small section of Appalachian Trail that I had not completed before, covering the Iron Mountain ridgeline from TN91  to Wilburn Dam Road.  This was a southbound 16 mile hike, spending one night.

About 3 miles into the hike my first stop was the Nick Grindstaff Monument.  This is very eerie place with a unique story…

Nick Grindstaff was born in 1851.  At the age of three he was orphaned.  Rumor has it that he later moved out west where he was robbed and severely beaten, along with suffering other financial difficulties.  He soon returned to Tennessee where he lived out the final 45 years of his life in total solitude (except for his dog “Panter”) in a very small cabin on Iron Mountain.  Supposedly, in 1923 a man went to visit Nick and found him dead in his cabin.  Some stories say that Panter watched over Nick’s dead body for days and had to be overpowered and tied to a tree so that his body could be buried.  Other stories say that Panter had to be killed and was buried alongside Nick in the chimney-shaped grave, which was once his cabin’s brick fireplace.  To this day many hikers that camp near this area report the spine-chilling howls of a dog late at night.  A few years ago I also had a scary encounter with dog near this very spot. Read more »

Categories: Apalachian Trail, Backpacking, Historical, Lakes, Vistas | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Rocky Fork Backpacking

Located along the TN/NC border in Unicoi County, TN is the newly purchased U.S. Forest Service property known as Rocky Fork.  This 10,000 acre tract is very rugged, with unmarked trails and very limited trail maps.  My good friend Jimmy Humston and I decided to do some exploring along the northern-most sections of the tract with our ultimate goal being “Buzzard Rock”… a wonderful, but extremely well-earned vista at 4,600′ elevation that overlooks the majority of the property. Read more »

Categories: Backpacking, Lakes, Vistas, Waterfalls | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Dennis Cove Falls

Upper Dennis Cove Falls

If you’re looking for a beautiful and adventurous hike, then check out out upper and lower Dennis Cove Falls in the Dennis Cove Recreational area.  This hike is not overly strenuous and the trail is well-marked, but it does require three creek crossings that can range from moderate to extremely dangerous… depending upon the water level in the Laurel Fork stream.  Staying dry can be a challenge. Read more »

Categories: Day-hike, Waterfalls | Tags: , | 1 Comment

White Rocks and Sand Cave (Cumberland Gap)

On Top of the White Rocks Cliff

Near the Cumberland Gap, and located on the long Cumberland Mountain ridgeline, are two awesome formations known as White Rocks and Sand Cave.  Both of these can be visited in the same day with a strenuous, ~9 mile hike within the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park from the trailhead in the Thomas Walker Civic Park.  This is a tough hike with about 1700 feet in elevation gain, but the trails are well maintained and contain lots of switchbacks that make the climbing a little easier.

I decided to make a loop out of the hike, visiting Sand Cave first and then heading down the ridge to White Rocks.  If you use my route, review the trail directions below carefully.  The trails are in good shape and have signage at trail junctions, but they aren’t blazed, and  I found some of the sign posts uprooted, which could leave you a little unsure at times. Read more »

Categories: Day-hike, Historical, Rock Formations, Vistas | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

Watauga Dam

Watauga Dam Vista

Watauga Dam was completed in 1949 by the Tennessee Valley Authority, creating a very beautiful lake at 2000′ elevation.  At the time of its construction, it was the highest elevation earthen dam in the world, and  today it still remains as the highest in the eastern United States.  What makes this area so picturesque is that much of the lake is surrounded by National Forest and the towering ridgelines of Iron and Pond mountains. Read more »

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Whitetop Mountain & Buzzard Rock

Buzzard Rock

Whitetop Mountain is the State of Virginia’s second highest peak at 5525′, along with having the highest maintained road in the state.  You can make this a very short and easy day-hike by taking this road all the way to the top of the mountain, but I decided to climb it on foot instead… starting at highway US600 at Elk Garden and heading south on the Appalachian Trail. Read more »

Categories: Apalachian Trail, Day-hike, Rock Formations, Summits, Vistas | Tags: , , | 15 Comments

Rocky Fork to Birchfield Camp Lake – Mtn Bike

Rocky Fork Trio Waterfall

A few months ago I found Birchfield Camp Lake (elevation 4000′) in the Rocky Fork Tract via the Higgins Creek route.   This time I decided to see if I could find it coming in from the main gate at Rocky Fork.  This is a longer route, and since my knee is still tender, I decided to give it a try on the mountain bike. Read more »

Categories: Day-hike, Lakes, Mountain Biking, Waterfalls | Tags: , , | 2 Comments