My favorite thing to do to decompress from the week is to walk in our beautiful mountains for a few hours. I’m lucky to live in a hiking mecca. You would be hard pressed to go anywhere around Johnson City and not have access to hiking in some capacity. The Appalachian Trail is just a few minutes away. It’s the grandfather of all the other footpaths in the United States, and is the longest hiking only footpath in the world.

I’ve been hiking on the AT in some capacity since around 1985. My first time was with my friends Blake and Ryan. Ryan’s father invited Blake and myself to join he and Ryan on a camping adventure along the Watauga River. We made camp right along the shoreline, and I had my first ever s’more! We hiked the next day for a while along the AT, and even then, I was just completely at peace being in the woods. We hiked during a weekend in the summer, so we had swimming options that we could enjoy to cool off while we were deep in the woods. The crazy thing is that even during the hottest part of the year, Watauga Lake can still be a rather cold body of water to get into.

Even around here, the topography and landscape changes quite a bit as the trail winds through our area. There are the bald areas in the Roan Highlands, that are some of the most beautiful and unique areas along the entirety of the trail. One of the more easily accessible points in which to hop onto the AT is to head over to Watauga Lake in Carter County. Along the road that runs parallel to the lake are several parking areas. From there it’s a short walk to the trailhead. The cool thing about this section of the Appalachian Trail is that it hugs the lake for a long portion until it goes over Wilbur Dam.

My favorite time to hike is in the autumn months of the year, when the leaves begin to change. The benefit of hiking during this time of year is that it’s still warm, but not so hot as to make hiking unbearable. While we don’t have quite the leaf punch that New England has, we still have the joy of living in an area that experiences all four seasons. A lot depends on the weather and rainfall throughout the summer as to how vibrant the leaves get during the fall.

“On a hike, the days pass with the wind, the sun, the stars; movement is powered by a belly full of food and water, not a noxious tankful of fossil fuels. On a hike, you’re less a job title and more a human being. A periodic hike not only stretches the limbs but also reminds us: Wow, there’s a big world out there.”

                                                                                                                                    Ken Ilgunas