If this Wilderness were a dartboard, players would aim for a 4,329-foot bull's-eye known as Pond Mountain, the highest point in the area. Rugged and steep, the terrain has numerous inclines that exceed 60 degrees and support seven major streams. Elevation bottoms out at unusual Buckled Rock (1,900 feet), a 150-foot vertical cliff named for the pattern of bends in the strata near Hampton, Tennessee. Upland hardwoods dominate the tree cover, along with a few cove hardwoods and yellow pines. In the center of the Wilderness you'll find the upright cliffs and rocky outcroppings of the Watauga Scenic Area. This is a rare discovery indeed, with small stands of virgin timber, scarce in Tennessee, including scarlet oak dating from the late 1800s. Several cascading waterfalls spill down the Laurel Fork Gorge in the southwestern corner of the area, where cliffs stand 100 to 200 feet above trout-teeming Laurel Fork Creek. Hunters are attracted in season to deer, grouse, and wild turkeys. Big Laurel Branch Wilderness lies just north of Watauga Lake. The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the area for about 6.6 miles, including a trek through the Laurel Fork Gorge, where a shelter stands. Several other trails provide access to the area. The Watauga Scenic Trail travels about 2.2 miles up Dry Branch into the heart of the scenic area. And the Pond Mountain Trail crawls up some steep and rocky terrain for about 4.5 miles along the top of Pond Mountain in a generally north-south direction.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Pond Mountain Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.