Hiking History: The Overmountain Victory Trail

Follow along with outdoorsman and writer Johnny Molloy as he treks through the mountains of Northeast Tennessee

In 1780, the Overmountain Men trekked through the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, and what later became known as Tennessee to take on the British. Today, you can still trace part of their route as part of the Overmountain Victory Trail.

Who were the Overmountain Men?

Settlers in what was known as the “Carolina Backcountry” of the Appalachian Mountains, these Patriot pioneers were tough and sought to take on British Major Patrick Ferguson and his brigade after threats were made to take over their land. Covering the treacherous terrain, more than 1,000 mounted milita-men were led by Colonel Isaac Shelby, Colonel John Sevier, Colonel William Campbell and Colonel Charles McDowell. Using silence and stealth, the Overmountain Men won the Battle for Kings Mountain, a major victory turning the tide of the Revolutionary War, and positioning the United States on the road to independence.

What is the Over Mountain Victory Trail?

The greater Overmountain Victory Trail is a historic route administered by the U.S. Park Service that traces the entire 330 mile route from the Abingdon Muster Grounds to Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton, Tenn. and ending at Kings Mountain, just across the North Carolina state line into South Carolina. Much of the trek follows a motor trail, but 87 miles of the original path can still be traced on foot.

Hike the Trail

You can follow part of the Overmountain Men’s route on a historic 7.2 mile there-and-back hike. Hikers will cover Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Area through meadows and mountain views, then climb through rich forest to Yellow Mountain Gap and the Appalachian Trail, turning around in the Pisgah National Forest at Roaring Fork Trailhead.

Begin at the trailhead on TN 143 near the town of Roan Mountain, where you’ll find driving signage at all significant turns. Once on foot, you’ll head left crossing Left Prong Creek on a metal bridge. Left Prong is one of Tennessee’s most productive brook trout fisheries. Big Ridge rises to your left and Hampton Creek Ridge forms a wall to your right. The scene recalls farming days of yesteryear deep in the heart of the southern Appalachians. Whiterocks Mountain rises behind you, as apple and hawthorn trees stand in the former orchard fields.

At 1.5 miles, pass through a gate to meet Birchfield Trail, a shadier alternative that runs astride forested Left Prong Creek. A normally dry rock hop is necessary to cross the creek, a little over halfway down.

At 3.6 miles, reach Yellow Mountain Gap meeting the Appalachian Trail at 4,640 feet. In September of 1780, 640 of the Overmountain Men marched through Yellow Mountain Gap in the snow towards Roaring Fork. Today, the gap is found quiet, as hikers often stop for a break. Two additional side hikes from here include heading north for 1.7 miles on the Appalachian Trail to Little Hump Mountain, or straight for .2 miles to the Red Barn trail shelter.

The Overmountain Victory Trail continues .8 miles into North Carolina until reaching the boundaries of the Pisgah National Forest and Roaring Fork trailhead. Here, you’ll turn around and head back to where you started on TN 143.

While You’re There

Roan Mountain State Park is just a few miles up TN 143 from the Overmountain Victory Trail trailhead, and offers more hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and natural history.

Leave No Trace

Remember to leave our trails with no trace, so adventures can last a lifetime. Find out how you can make a difference with our leaders for litter-free Tennessee efforts.

Johnny Molloy is the author of many outdoor guides including Best Tent Camping: Tennessee, Paddling Tennessee, and Five Star Trails Tri-Cities: East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia..