Monday, June 23, 2008

Mountain Laurels on Stamping Ground Ridge

Okay, so it may not be nearly as amazing as the rhododendron garden on Roan Mountain, but the Mountain Laurel blooms on Unaka mountain are still worth the trip. This heath bald is another of the little known gems of Unicoi County, TN (a heath bald means you'll find mostly rhododendron, mountain laurel, blueberry bushes and other shrubs -- with very few or no trees). Stamping Ground is beautiful with its unique plants and wonderful views. The trail itself goes all the way down to the old Limestone Cove camp 3.9 miles below, but it's insanely steep (click here for more info). I'd recommend you drive up to Stamping Ground via the Unaka Mountain Road, and walk the top portion of the ridge (a short and easy stroll -- approximately 1/2 mile) to where the trail enters the forest.

Directions: From I-26 take the Unicoi exit (#32). At the end of exit ramp turn east towards town. At the stop sign, turn right onto Unicoi Road (which is also known locally as the Erwin Highway) and proceed for 0.7 miles. Follow the signs pointing to the Cherokee National Forest by turning left onto Rt. 107 (Limestone Cove Road). Drive 7.8 miles, turn right on Red Fork Road (it's also referred to as Unaka Mountain Road). Proceed up the mountain for 6 miles to a well-marked parking area and trail head to your right. Note: They've really worked on this section of the Unaka Mountain Road, it's in the best shape I've ever seen. In the past I've always recommended high clearance vehicles (truck, jeep, van or SUV), but now I'd say most cars should make it up this particular section of the gravel road with little or no problem. If you're planning a trip to Stamping Ground Ridge, you should also check out Red Fork Falls and Horseback Ridge.

Click here for a post listing all there is to see and do on Unaka Mountain.

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