Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pinnacle Mountain Trail

 In 2011, a trail linking the town of Unicoi to the Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower was completed.  The trailhead for the 4.5 mile trail is just off of the Unicoi Drive exit of I-26, at the future site of the Tanasi Heritage and Arts Center.  The trail is well designed, leading hikers (and mountain bikers) on a beautiful, twisting path up the mountain. The grade is steady (average 7% grade) as it climbs from the valley to the 3540' summit and the restored (or more accurately, completely rebuilt) 1931 firetower.  The original tower, last in service in the 1980s, was removed and replaced. The stairs, although steep, allow for public access to the 40' high lookout. Some photos taken during the rebuilding are below. 


Click here for a helpful trail map.
Read other accounts of the hike from Hiking Bill and RATtreks.
Click here to read about the two volunteers who surveyed and mapped the new trail.


Directions: From I-26, take exit 32 (Unicoi Road) and turn west (away from town). You'll quickly come to a stop sign, turn right and immediately on your left you will see restrooms and a small parking area. Park here and walk up the gravel road 50 yards and you'll see the well-marked trailhead on your left. After climbing 3 1/2 miles (approx) the trail will intersect with a forest service road. From here, you have a two choices.  (Option 1)  If you continue straight, through the gravel parking area, the trail you've been on continues for another 1.5 miles. From the parking area looking west, you'll see three trails, you want the middle one marked "Pinnacle Mountain Trail" (the others are ATV trails). This option allows for a gradual climb of the remaining section of the mountain, and in the winter months offers views out to the west as the trail wraps its way counter-clockwise around the mountain. Total distance ~6 miles one way. (Option 2) Turn left on the road, go an eighth of a mile to a gated road, follow the gated road right and up to the tower. This approach is much, much steeper, but also much quicker (only 3/4 mile).  Be careful if you take this option to stay on the road and avoid the ATV trail that you'll cross over. Total distance ~4.5 miles one way.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Meigs
I took the trail (option 1) to the top, and the road (option 2) on the way back.  All in all, a wonderful (and exhausting) hike -- with rewarding views!  It was approximately 10 miles roundtrip - and took longer than you'd think, so be sure you set out with plenty of daylight (and water, too!).

BTW... It is possible to drive to the tower from the western side of mountain on a meandering, narrow forest service road (#188) off of Dry Creek Road (See map here). But what's the fun in that?! Anyway, here's how you do it...

Driving Directions...Take I-26 to the Erwin/Jonesborough exit #37. At the end of the ramp, turn west (away from Erwin) and take State Route 81/107 west for 4 miles, immediately before crossing the Nolichucky River, turn right onto Arnold Road. Reset your odometer and continue for 2 miles, then turn right onto Dry Creek Road.  Proceed 3.8 miles and then turn right onto the gravel forest service road #188. (Last time I drove this the road was in fairly rough shape, I'd strongly recommend a high clearance vehicle for this road.  Also, note the gate is most likely closed in the winter). Proceed up the road. At 2.3 miles, you'll come to a fork, stay left.  At 3.5 miles you'll come to another fork, stay right.  At 4.7 miles, you'll reach a well established parking area. From which you can take either option 1 or 2 (described above) to reach the tower.

From JC: You could also get to this forest service road from Johnson City... From University Parkway, turn onto Cherokee Rd and drive 2.1 miles, then turn left onto Lone Oak Rd (which becomes Dry Creek Rd) and drive 5.3 miles to FS Road 188 on your left.)

19 comments:

  1. Looks like a great hike. Any idea when the tower will be open?

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  2. One article said in the next month or two the tower should be completed. It's a great trail -- but much of it is very muddy right now from all the melting snow. Still...I recommend it!

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  3. Looks like the tower is open. The construction looked complete. I was there today after hiking the new trail up to it. I didn't climb it though.

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  4. Hiked to tower July 4th. One of nicest trails i've ever hiked. View from the tower is amazing, although the mountains are somewhat hazy this time of year...

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  5. i hiked the trail twice--enjoyed it --just watch out for the Bears

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  6. We hiked to the tower this afternoon. Lovely trail. Be careful of snakes, though. We saw 2 rattlers. One was the biggest I'd ever seen, 5 feet long and slowly crossing the trail. Also saw some bear scat but it was at least a couple days old. Views from the tower are awesome.

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  7. Is there a map with all the different trails available to the public? Even a hand written one?

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  8. I'm not aware of a map of the entire Buffalo/Pinnacle Mtn trail system. The ranger's station in Unicoi might have one. Sorry I can't be of more help. As an aside...There is an updated trail map for Buffalo Mtn... http://www.johnsoncitytn.org/index.php?page=531

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  9. yet another place you can not use an atv !!!

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  10. Tried to drive up there with the family today, May 11. Gate was closed. Very dissapointing Any reason it would be closed this close to summer? Why restore a fire tower and lock it down?

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    1. I called the Unicoi office a few weeks ago asking why the road was closed and she said it was closed indefinitely due to storm damage and no plans to reopen anytime soon. Very dissapointing!

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    2. We drove up the road (188 off of Dry Creek Road). Ran out of time and turned around 1 mile from the tower The road appears to be about 5 miles long (my son drove it yesterday all te way to the top) . A lot of work has been done to stabilize the road but it was still quite muddy in places (poured rain this morning) and there was a lot of rocks in the road and one tree down across it that had been partially cut away. Much of the road is very narrow with no way to pass a vehicle going the other way.

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    3. The road (FR 188 off of Dry Creek Road) is now open to the parking area on top of the mountain. The parking area is about a mile from the tower - you can walk up the road (through two locked gates) or walk the new trail which hits the top of the ridge at the parking area. The road is in reasonable shape. There are many one lane parts where you may have to back up to let someone by and many places with steep drop-offs.

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  11. Went up 188 today. Road is open and I was able to get up it fine in my Toyota Corolla. They have done a lot of repair work but there are still some pot holes and muddy spots. Glad it is open again!

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  12. Do you know if there is access (maybe another forest service road) that goes up to the tower from Pinnacle Road?

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  13. I only know of the forest service road mentioned in the post above.

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  14. Hiked this trail this past Sunday. It takes much longer than you'd think from the base. Take plenty of water and electrolyte replacements. Never saw a bear but there was a lot of scat and bear musk in the air, so I expected to run across one. This is a great trail and hike, just don't think of it as a beginner hike, it certainly isn't.

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  15. Heaven on earth -breath taking-absolutely worth the effort!
    Just a Virginia girl living in a Tennessee world!

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