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Flint Rock – Holston Mountain Lookout Tower

Posted by on January 7, 2015
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



9 Responses to Flint Rock – Holston Mountain Lookout Tower

  1. Jim

    Bill,I am glad to see you posting again,I have followed you since you had your old website.

  2. Stephanie

    My family & I are not experienced hikers, is this something we could do?? I am interested in this area because my ancestor (Stephen Holston) settled here. What kind of wildlife should we expect?

    • Bill Fuller

      I think you could do it as inexperienced hikers, Stephanie. There is a decent climb coming back toward the fire tower from Flint Rock, but it’s not extreme, and the overall hike is relatively short. The trail was in good shape the last time I was up there.

  3. Bekah

    Thanks for your detailed directions and awesome hiking guides! I always know where to look for advice on a new adventure! I’ve been to the fire tower before and love the view…but the tower is extremely questionable, as you said. Planning on checking out a similar view from Flint Rock today!

  4. J. Jeffrey Philbrick

    For the last few years I’ve been researching the Old Appalachian Trail route for an ebook hiking guide to be published soon. A comparison of vintage USGS maps I found online and current hiking maps show the Holston Mountain Trail is THE original route of the A.T. from the 1930s. In 1954, the A.T. was relocated southeast onto Iron Mountain and over the Roan Highlands (the current A.T. route). As a side note, the current A.T. route on Holston Mountain, between Double Spring shelter on Rich Knob and the town of Damascus in Virginia, is also the original Old A.T. route from the 1930s. Just thought you might be interested to know that a hike on Holston Mtn Trail is a hike on a slice of A.T. history.

  5. Charlie

    Can you get to this trail from rt.421 near the top of the mountain

    • Bill Fuller

      Yes, you can. If you start at 421, you’ll go south on the A.T. until you come to Double Springs Shelter. The Holston Mtn Trail intersects with the A.T. at that shelter. You would then head west on the Holston Mtn Trail (blue-blazed). It would another 10ish miles until you would reach Flint Rock.

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