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Three Top Mountain is not a place often mentioned in guidebooks for understandable reasons—it’s completely segregated from the common tourist corridors, and even though its paths are well-trodden, its total isolation from humanity can be disconcerting to even seasoned hikers.

From the parking area (see directions below), you’ll have a two mile trek to the summit on a former ATV trail.  In practice, it feels like more than two miles, since you’re walking uphill the entire way.  Most of the trail is obvious, but at some intersections you’ll have to intuit the proper route.  Fortunately, we found this was easily accomplished so long as we kept heading uphill.

Lori Beth and I chose an unfortunately stormy day to hike and as a result, were completely alone on the trail.  Our solitude was welcome as we spotted wildflowers and bright orange lizards, but it became somewhat less welcome when we discovered a substantial bear paw print in the fresh mud. Solitude, however, was what we were looking for and with many a bear-cry (my wife affects this with a piercing “WHOOP!” that can be heard by every bear in a ten-mile radius), we trekked onward and upward.

Above: a comely Carolina Lily

Above: bright red lizard

Above: bear paw print along first part of trail

As you near the top, the trail becomes much thinner, but there is still a well-trodden path to follow.  The summit you reach offers incredible views—some of the best in the High Country.  Unfortunately, a storm was vectored directly toward us from the south, and we could spend only a few minutes at the top.

Above: view toward Creston

Above: view toward Elk Knob–which we stopped to hike on the way home so we could look back toward Three Top!

Hike it:  Three Top is a hike few folks know about.  This alone makes it well worth the visit as it’s isolated and the chances of you hiking alone are fairly good.  If you choose to go during the hunting season, do be sure to wear bright colors and remember that you’re on game lands.  If you visit Three Top during the winter months, an all-wheel drive vehicle is preferable as the road to the top is short, but dodgy.

  • Length: 2.0 miles
  • Duration: 2 hrs.
  • Difficulty: Strenuous due to elevation gain
  • Hike Configuration: up and down
  • Blaze: None
  • Condition: Former ATV trail, well-maintained
  • Trailhead: Small gravel parking area
  • Traffic: Minimal
  • Directions:

From Boone, you have two possible routes: Meat Camp road to Elk Knob, leading down to NC 88 (then turning right). The other (less curvy) option is to take US 421 to Trade, TN, then take TN 67 which becomes NC 88.

  • At Creston, take the aptly named Three Top Road on your right, cross the river on Eller Road, and continue straight on Hidden Valley Road.  You’ll drive through a subdivision which advertises that it’s “PRIVATE PROPERTY.”  However, Three Top Mountain and its environs are owned by the state of North Carolina as a game preserve, so fear not.
  • If you continue driving and following the NC Wildlife signs, they’ll point you in the right direction (the roads look rough, but my wife’s Camry made it there and back with no ill effects).

Additional Resources: SummitPost.org & Dan Weemhoff

Entry by Charles

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