Unaka Mountain Auto Tour - Tennessee Scenic Drives


The Unaka Mountain Auto Tour takes you on a 30 mile loop of the Unaka Ranger District of the Cherokee National Forest. As you travel through Unicoi County you will see some of east Tennessee's most beautiful scenery.

District Ranger's Office

The Unaka Ranger District (1205 N. Main St. Erwin, TN.) is one of six ranger districts making up the 625,000 acre Cherokee National Forest. The Cherokee NF including the 110,000 acre Unaka District is administered by the USDA - Forest Service. Your National Forests are managed to provide wood, water, forage, wildlife and recreation in a manner that is in balance and will not harm the land. (Next stop 3.2 miles)

Rock Creek
Recreation Area

This popular recreation area was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Camping & picnicking are available on a first come first serve basis. Visitors from near and far come here to enjoy the clear, cool water of the swimming area (Next stop 3.1 miles)

Indian Grave Gap

According to local history this area gets its name from a battle fought here in the 1700s between Indians and settlers. Reportedly some of the Indians were buried near here. From the ridge top it is possible to stand in two states and two national forests (Pisgah NF -NC and Cherokee NF - TN.) From here the famous Appalachian Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia follows the mountain top. (Next stop 2.2 miles)

Beauty Spot

Grassy openings like Beauty Spot are known as "balds" due to their lack of trees. No one knows exactly what causes this. Theories include over-grazing by cattle in the 18th century, severe forest fires, and feeding buffalo herds in the 17th & 18th centuries that trampled existing vegetation. What do you think? The grassy meadows here provide habitat for a variety of animals including deer, rabbits, voles, mice, hawks, owls, foxes, grouse and many species of song birds. Keep a sharp eye out and maybe you will be lucky enough to see some of the wildlife that live here. (Next stop .5 mile)

Beauty Spot Gap/
Unaka Mtn. Wilderness

(Elevation 4,500') Updrafts of wind bring thousands of seeds, which may account for the many wild flowers found here. On the side of Unaka Mountain located to your left is an old silver mine. The productivity of the mine is unknown but was the subject of many discussions. The prospector who worked the mine traveled on foot through the villages be low the mountain enroute to his "secret mine." It is said that he always returned with some silver.

Behind the rock barricade lies the 4,700 acre Unaka Mountain Wilderness area. Like all designated wilderness areas the use of mechanical devices and motorized vehicles is prohibited. However, camping, hiking, hunting, berry picking and other activities leading to a "primitive" experience are allowed. (Next stop 3.5 miles)

Unaka Mountain Overlook

The elevation here is nearly a mile high. Look 28 miles to the southeast to see Mt. Mitchell, highest mountain east of the Mississippi (over 6,600 ft.) Look to the right to see portions of Erwin where your tour began. Below you is Beauty Spot Gap and farther out lies Beauty Spot. - Enjoy! (Next stop .2 mile)

Spruce/Fir Forest

Many "evergreens" on Unaka Mountain are red spruce. Spruce forests are dense and sunlight cannot penetrate them. Little groundcover grows here and the forest is usually cool and moist. These conditions create habitat for unique wildlife species including the lungless Appalachian salamander. Instead of laying their eggs in water like most amphibians, they use the moist forest floor. Animals like the New England cottontail rabbit and the least weasel are found only in this type of habitat and adjacent areas. The forest also provides habitat for endangered species such as the northern flying squirrel. (Next stop 3.5 miles)

White Pine Plantation

The white pines you see were planted in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. A wildfire roared through here in 1925 destroying most of the trees and vegetation in the area. As you can see replanting efforts were successful and the area is once again a productive forest. The remains of an old railroad grade is visible to the left of the curve. It was constructed in the early 1900s to haul logs from here to sawmills in the valleys below. (Next stop 1.4 miles)

Clear Fork Creek

The Forest Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency joined forces to enhance brook trout habitat by building fish barriers (waterfalls) like this one. They keep "nonnative" rainbow trout from traveling upstream to where "native" brook trout live. Rainbows' compete for food and habitat of brook trout who prefer the cooler sections of the stream. (Next stop 4.9 miles)

Bell Cemetery/
Limestone Cove

This area is recognized for its Civil War history as well as being the location where Andrew Jackson first entered Tennessee. He rode through Limestone Cove on his way to set up a law practice in Jonesborough. Look for deer, bear, and turkey that are some-times seen here. (Next stop 1.6 miles)

Limestone Cove
Recreation Area

This 18 unit campground was built in the late 1930s and offers a relaxed atmosphere to get away from it all. Playing in the creek and fishing are favorite activities of children and adults alike. Go ahead - get your feet wet! (Next stop 6.7 miles)

Erwin Fish Hatchery &
Unicoi County Heritage Museum

The Erwin National Fish Hatchery was established in 1897 and is operated by the USDI -Fish and Wildlife Service. Several strains of rainbow trout and fertilized eggs are produced here that are sent to other hatcheries, research facilities and other countries. The Unicoi County Heritage Museum was once scheduled to be destroyed but was saved through the efforts of concerned citizens. This beautiful Victorian style house is used to display memorabilia of days gone by. Stretch your legs and take a short hike on the nature trail above the museum.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 27 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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