Left to right, Nate Sylvester, J Penny and Tony Casey pose for a foggy 'selfie' at the Beauty Spot in the middle of a recent mountain run near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. (Contributed photo)
I have a friend, who shall go nameless for this sentence alone, who constantly declares that he hates the idea of driving a car to run somewhere.
If his reasoning wasn’t shear avoidance of waking up just a little bit earlier in the morning and more to the effect of, “we have so much to experience just outside our front doors,” I’d be more accepting of this logic. But, with our position at the bottom of the these massive mountains and hills that surround us, it’s only natural that many of us would like to ease the burden of getting to the tippy tops by driving closer to the bases of the sights that surround us.
Beauty Spot in the Unaka Mountains, high above Unicoi County, on a non-foggy day can provide overlook views that rival any others. The Appalachian Trail runs up to Beauty Spot, too, giving its users a chance to experience at least part of the adventure that so many strive to accomplish. Plus, if you’re not into parking in the lot just off Rock Creek Road, you can push your vehicle to its limits, climbing a quick 1,000 feet to Beauty Spot.
It’s not an easy journey for your car, but it can be done. As hard as it is on the vehicle, it’s even harder on the legs, should you want to run or hike up to the lookout spot, which is what I did with the aforementioned oppositional friend and a trailrunning pal who was in town for a week. We three parked and ran uphill to the Beauty Spot, trying to keep our first two miles in the single digits and doing so, just barely. It’s always an occasion to have a friend whom you haven’t seen in a while join on such a pretty run, but when your lungs are working as hard as ours were to avoid resorting to a walk, the conversation frequently tailed off into bouts of hard-breathing groans.
A quick stop at the spot gave a perfect opportunity for a selfie and a catch of the breath before continuing on. Beauty Spot is very much a wide open field at the top of the mountains, hanging above Unicoi’s ridges, with nearly 360 degrees of views, straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina state lines. If you park there, you’re setting yourself up for a perfect venue for a family picnic, photos, or one of the most picturesque places a person could study or enjoy a bit of pleasure reading.
Or, you could get your pleasure the way we did, continuing up from Beauty Spot into the even higher elevations. The service road, which brought us from the lot at Rock Creek Road to Beauty Spot continues upward, running next to the trail we used on our run, constantly offering a way to chicken out from the steep trail. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the thrill of running along those spine-like mountain ridges, pressing on above Beauty Spot offers the perfect opportunity.
Though only a single trail, the crunch of leaves and twigs is the only thing that keeps you from an ongoing conversation with your friends, which is something that we took full advantage of, taking in the views between the fog. Though we didn’t this past trip, if you continue on to the top, there isn’t a bald spot with views like those from other mountaintops, but a bright green pine tree forest, with all the trees in a row.
This isn’t the ultimate letdown as it provides a different kind of goal to reach when you’re trail running. People who want wide open views can get plenty of them below at Beauty Spot.
As for our run, we ended somewhere between the two spots, about three and a half miles up from where we started, opting to come back on the equally hilly service road to complete a nice seven-mile run.
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