Watauga Lake & Dam

  • Highlights: Lake views, Appalachian Trail, wildflowers
  • Distance: 6.2 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change 1,020 feet
  • Trail Surface: Dirt with some  rocky sections
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Trailhead Parking: AT parking area on US 321/TN 67, near Shook Branch Recreation Area
  • Trail Markings: White blazes
  • Website: AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Watauga Brewing Co.—Pilsner & IPA

Trail Map:

This is a nice walk in the woods on the AT with some decent mountain and lake views. The AT crosses over the Watauga Dam which spans the Watauga River Gorge. The AT enters the Shook Branch Recreation Area near the beach. Follow the AT northbound through a hardwood forest with several nice lake views. Mountain laurel and rhododendron thickets dot the trail. We noticed lots of poison ivy on this section of the trail, especially down by the lake. Be careful out there!

The AT climbs gradually at first with several easy stream crossings. As the trail moves away from the lake, the climb becomes steeper. The AT reaches an asphalt road and crosses the dam at 2.7 miles. To the left is a deep gorge carved out by the Watauga River. This was our 2nd AT hike of the day and thunderstorms were threatening so we made a hasty return back to our vehicle just as the skies opened up.

Hike Photos:

Beer Pairing:

Watauga Brewing Co. in Johnson City is about 35 from the trailhead. The taproom is on the first floor, a restaurant on the 2nd, and as rooftop bar on the 3rd floor. They have 16 taps of craft beer, a full service bar, and the tapas on the 3rd floor were excellent.

The west coast-style IPA (6.1% ABV) is brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops; it was piney and hoppy—perfection in a pint glass! Pete enjoyed a glass of Keller Pils (5% ABV) cold, crisp, an unfiltered—everything he likes in a pilsner. 

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe, be responsible, and leave no trace.