North Carolina October 06, 2017
This Epic Hike In North Carolina Will Take You To A Terrifying Ghost Town
North Carolina is dotted with ghost towns. From Portsmouth Island on the Outer Banks to the underwater ghost town of Judson beneath Fontana Lake; remnants of history and those who called these places home now exists in eerie (and sometimes serene) landscapes. One way to reel in the Halloween spirit, while also exploring backwoods nature and eventually stumbling on a ghost town, is taking a trek to the mysterious Lost Cove.
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It's been sixty years since the last residents of Lost Cove packed up their belongings, took one look back and headed away towards more prosperous regions. While the area and it's remoteness had grown in fame for moonshine production, it's not a profitable economy for long-tem and many were seeking an escape from the remoteness.
Just the geography of the area makes one feel isolated, boxed in. Lost Cove is situated at the base of Flattop Mountain, despite the name, the towering mountain is jarring, steep and seemingly inaccessible. While Flattop is steep, on the other side, Unaka Mountain is almost more treacherous with both reaching around 5,000 feet. The two oppositions work together to form a gorgeous base between, and in that base existed Lost Cove situated on the Nolichucky River. A place where people lived, worked, and of course...made moonshine. Until it was time to go. While there's no concrete answer if the law was after some (as some houses look as if the person left overnight with no calculated action) taking the trek to this eerie ghost town takes a bit of courage.
The history of Lost Cove is both debated and colorful. Some say the first settlers were two families from the Daniel Boone expedition, others claim they arrived during the Civil War era. Either way, agriculture was the prime source of income for the earliest 'Lost Covers' but rich soil couldn't beat out the emergence of the rail industry. Townspeople soon shifted their income to lumbering and rail. Yet, like any classic Appalachian town, there were innocent, 'on the surface jobs,' but there was always moonshine.
Due to its location on the TN/NC border in Yancey County, it was hard for tax collectors to penetrate. Moonshining started in the 1800s and continued until the end. Today, Lost Cove is known as one of the most notorious ghost towns in North Carolina.
Getting here is a journey in itself. There's two main routes to Lost Cove. The easiest route is the Lost Cove Trail which you'll find from an unlabeled trailhead off Forest Service Road 278. In his book,
Did You See That, Too?
Author Joe Sledge points out even the trek to the trail is difficult, requiring a functional four-wheel drive vehicle,
"This is a twisty, tight, gravel and dirt road. If you continue up this road, make sure you have a vehicle that can safely get up the mountain, handle the roads, and that the driver has the skill to drive up to the parking lot."
The 2.5-mile trek starts with ascending two miles up a gravel road then leading down Flattop Mountain, eventually ending at Lost Cove. Once here, you can explore the many abandoned buildings, cars, even a small cemetery situated on top of a hill. All places here once breathed with life and although the last remaining resident didn't leave until 1957, it feels as if it's been abandoned for hundreds of years.
Another - and more flat way in - is hiking along railroad tracks in Unicoi County (TN). The trek starts at River Road and ranges for three miles. While you might be in some remote backwoods, it's also a peaceful trek that hugs the Nolichucky River. After hiking two miles along the tracks, you'll reach a dirt road, follow it for a mile and you'll end up at the abandoned ghost town.
Just like the mysterious and hard-to-passage Lost Cove, many routes here are unmarked and require a bit of skill and planning. It's best to go with others and especially best to only attempt this if you consider yourself a skilled hiker acclimated to the elements and able to plan. Sledge notes,
"The hike to Lost Cove is, on average, two and a half hours (!). And it’s a bit of a climb, with a lot of elevation changes. Once there, expect to spend at least an hour in the old town, plus more if you want to hike to see the river. Then you have to go back, which will take probably more than two and a half hours, because you are already tired. So, considering anyone trying this will need 6+ hours of hiking time, with all the supplies, food and water, first aid, all the stuff you need to pack in and out on your own (no, there are no bathrooms up there), this should only be undertaken by knowledgeable experienced hikers who understand not only how to get around in the outdoors, but know how to prepare by checking the long term weather and to check in with people to keep safe."
Lost Cove is indeed an ominous place. There's marked gravestones still legible, abandoned houses seemingly left in a frenzy, automobiles rusting beneath towering trees, and nothing but stillness, silence, and remnants of past energy. The hike and town are not for the faint of heart, but if you're looking for some extra thrills, a great workout, and also some eerie yet amazing photo opportunities...this is the place.
Have you ever visited Lost Cove before or perhaps know anyone from the town? The last residents left in 1957…so it might be possible! Would you do this hike or have any other ghost town hikes you’d like to recommend?
If you can’t get enough of North Carolina ghost towns,
follow our haunting road trip to see all across the state.