By Ashley Rader
East Tennessee and the surrounding mountains have a number of hiking trails for hiking enthusiasts or the casual hiker to take advantage of during the spring and summer.
There are also hiking organizations more than willing to introduce novice hikers to some of the region’s best trails.
For instance, the Mid-Appalachian Highlands Hiking Club meets regularly to go on day hikes or short overnight hikes on the many trails that criss-cross the mountains of East Tennessee, western North Carolina and southwest Virginia.
Club President Helga Mitchell said the club organizes hikes for all experience levels throughout the region. Mitchell, who described herself as a “serious hiker,” has completed many of the hikes organized by the club.
“My favorite hike is the first one I did with the club,” Mitchell said. “It started on (Highway) 321 and went to Watauga Dam and back. It has been rerouted now and follows the edge of the lake. It has so many wildflowers and is a really beautiful hike.”
Mitchell said that particular hike was a good option for beginners because it was a more popular hike and had people on the trail more frequently. Also, the trail has cell phone reception along the entire trip which makes hikers feel less isolated.
The hiking club usually hikes this trail on July 4. Mitchell said the club hikes along the lake and finds a good vantage spot for viewing the Fourth of July Boat Parade. Members also enjoy a picnic as part of the festivities.
The club goes on a variety of hikes throughout the year with different difficulty levels. Most of the hikes take place on the weekends. Longer hikes are held on Saturday and shorter hikes take place on Sunday. One of the longer hikes follows the Appalachian Trail along the Iron Mountain Trail to Damascus, Va.
“Our Sunday hikes start around 1:15 p.m. so people can go to church and still make it to the hike,” Mitchell said. “These hikes are shorter and are closer than some of the other hikes.”
Mitchell said the club volunteers to do trail maintenance and cleanup along that trail, making them one of the only hiking clubs in East Tennessee to work on trail maintenance projects. Members also undertake trail maintenance projects on Buffalo Mountain.
Mitchell offered some advice to those that are considering taking up hiking as a sport or occasional hobby.
“The first thing is to just get out there and do it,” she said. “We hear a lot of time that people are thinking about it or are considering it but you’ll never get started if you don’t just go and do a hike. Look at the schedule and find a hike that you are comfortable with. The Sunday hikes are a good place to start because they are usually shorter.”
She explained that each hike has a leader that can be contacted for any questions about the hike. Hikes are free to join and memberships are available. She said people do not have to be members of the club to join in the hikes, but that the club membership dues are used to pay for the trail maintenance projects the club carries out.
The club also holds social functions for its members, including a recent summer picnic at The Laurels Recreation Area in Carter County.