Want more solitude than the Dragon’s Tooth/McAfee Knob/Tinker Cliffs corridor on the Appalachian Trail? Just on the other side of the Catawba Valley, the NORTH MOUNTAIN TRAIL in Jefferson National Forest offers about 12 miles of hiking and camping with far less traffic. The downsides: you may encounter a few mountain bikers, there are no water sources after the first mile, and there are very few views when the leaves are on the trees. But this moderately difficult hike offers great views when the leaves are down – between November and late April or early May. Plan a one-night backpack or allow at least 6 to 7 hours for a day hike. You can position cars at each end (Andy Layne/Tinker Cliffs trailhead and Dragon’s Tooth trailhead.)
The Hiking Upward website offers an excellent map and a detailed description, although the mileages differ slightly from those provided on Forest Service signage. The Forest Service map is geared to people entering from the next valley west but it does include a description of the Catawba Trail that begins near the Andy Layne Trail parking lot. The entire North Mountain hike has excellent signage.
HISTORY. On March 1, 1978, problems with some local landowners forced the relocation of the Appalachian Trail away from McAfee Knob and on to North Mountain on the other side of the Catawba Valley in the Jefferson National Forest. This situation did not last long. On January 24, 1982 Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club volunteers Siegfried Kolmstetter, Charles Parry, Andy Layne, Mac McDaniel and Larry Wood brushed out the first mile of the new trail back to McAfee Knob. Although the AT is no longer there, North Mountain remains an outstanding hike, especially between November and April, when the leaves are down and the views most expansive.