Sprawled among the low peaks near Mountain City, Tennessee, the Doe Mountain Recreation Area (DMRA) is a wooded wonderland of trails, wildlife, and Appalachian scenery. Its 8,600 forested acres include more than 60 miles of multi-use trails, which are especially popular among ATV, UTV, and other Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) users. But, the area is also fantastic for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The park’s impressively rugged and nearly pristine landscape will easily captivate all types of visitors for several hours or several days. If you’re seeking new trails to explore, this guide will steer you toward the best that Doe Mountain has to offer.
Becoming Doe Mountain Recreation Area
Today, the DMRA is one of the largest remaining stretches of privately-owned woodland in the Appalachian Highlands region. But its story could have been very different.
“At one time, the 8,600 acres that are currently DMRA had been purchased by a developer who planned to build a subdivision here,” says Tate Davis, the recreation area’s executive director.
However, before any construction could begin, the developer went bankrupt, and The Nature Conservancy was able to partner with the state of Tennessee to purchase the land. Through this acquisition, the park’s immaculate forests and 40 rare species of plants and animals are protected for present and future generations of nature lovers.
The DMRA receives federal funding, and relies on grants, permit fees, with a dedicated team of volunteers to maintain and improve its infrastructure.
While the property has been open to the public since 2013, it initially included very few trails and amenities, says Davis. During the first five years of the park’s existence, volunteers spent a lot of time designing and building trails and improving infrastructure. Their efforts have paid off, as the DMRA is attracting an increasingly diverse community of outdoor enthusiasts.
All users of DMRA are required to purchase a permit, which ranges from $3 for hikers to $18 for OHV drivers. Frequent visitors can even buy an annual, unlimited membership to explore Doe Mountain any day of the year.
Doe Mountain’s Inspiring Views
From its perch in the Appalachians, Doe Mountain offers visitors several places to enjoy scenic overlooks of the surrounding ridges and valleys. DMRA’s crown jewel is the Kettlefoot Fire Lookout Tower, a 60-foot structure that sits atop 3,889-foot Doe Mountain. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the fire tower in 1936, and it was recently restored with a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Those brave enough to climb is stairway are rewarded with a 360-degree view that includes North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain, Tennessee’s Roan Mountain, Virginia’s Whitetop Mountain, Watauga Lake, and much more.
“It’s 4.5 miles each way to get to the fire tower because it’s on the very top of the mountain,” says Davis. “Up there, as far as you can see, there’s no indication of human interaction.”
At Chimney Rock, another popular overlook, visitors can gaze out over Doe Valley from a wooden viewing platform. The shortest way to reach this viewpoint is from Roan Creek Campground, which is a great place to stay while you explore Doe Mountain.
Hiking, Biking, and Off-Road Adventures
The many miles of trails at DMRA are open to hiking, biking, equestrian use and, most notably, OHVs. Since the recreation opened, its abundance of high-quality trails has made it a major destination for off-roading in Tennessee.
According to Davis, many OHV users travel to this part of northeast Tennessee to spend several days riding at the DMRA. Because the recreation area has so many dirt roads, people can’t ride them all in one day. All trails are numbered, marked, and rated based on difficulty, so visitors can be well-informed before heading out.
“Overwhelmingly, the most popular activity out here is OHV recreation users,” says Davis. “We also have hiking and mountain biking, but we see far fewer of those visitors right now.
The DMRA is building additional non-motorized trails to bring in more hikers and mountain bikers. This trail system will include an OHV-free path that will run from the Harbin Hill Visitor Center to the Kettlefoot Fire Tower. All of Doe Mountain’s OHV paths are open to foot traffic, and they provide seemingly endless opportunities for hikers who don’t mind sharing the trail with motorized traffic.
Davis attributes the park’s lack of hikers to the proximity of well-known destinations like the Appalachian Trail and the Iron Mountain Trail. But, he’s hopeful that more hikers will venture into Doe Mountain’s beautiful landscape as more non-motorized trails are constructed in the coming years.
Mountain bikers and equestrians will love Doe Mountain’s challenging, cross country-style riding. They can easily ride all day and never run out of new trails to explore. Wildlife enthusiasts will also find plenty to love at DMRA. It’s not unusual to see black bears, deer, bobcats, and many other species common in the South.
“Back in May I went with a nature conservancy birding team, and in less than two and a half hours they identified over 30 species here on Doe Mountain,” says Davis.
How to Access the Area
The most popular access point is Doe Mountain Adventure Center, where visitors can pick up trail maps and permits before launching their adventures from the heart of the park. R&D Campground and Roan Creek Campground are two excellent nearby lodging options that offer access, maps, and permits for DMRA.
Visitors can rent OHVs through Dean Kirby’s ATV Rentals.
Whether you choose to explore Doe Mountain on foot, on a bike, or an ATV, you’re sure to be thrilled by its wild and beautiful trails and vistas. This enormous yet little-known gem has quickly become a haven for OHV users, and it’s steadily growing more popular with hikers and mountain bikers. If you want to expand your horizons and wander new trails, you’ll find a world of adventure in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.
Written by Madison Eubanks for Matcha in partnership with NETTA.
Featured image provided by Northeast Tennessee