The United States Congress designated the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness (map
) in 1986 and it now has a total of 6,365 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Tennessee
and is managed by the Forest Service.
Numerous streams drain from a major northeast-southwest-trending ridge crest in Big Laurel Branch Wilderness, which includes the completely forested southern end of Iron Mountain. Hidden behind Iron Mountain's double parallel crests are the valleys of Big Laurel Branch and Little Laurel Branch. The former, on the western side of the crest, eases out of seclusion until it runs into Wilbur Lake on the edge of the Wilderness. Sheer rock walls herald the blue jewel, and Big Laurel Branch gracefully plunges 50 feet to join the lake. Waterways here typically plummet over cascades, slides, and short falls into hollows (choked with rhododendron and laurel) separated by narrow ridges that run east-west from the main ridge. Mixed second-growth hardwoods dominate the forest cover, occasionally sharing turf with yellow and white pines and eastern hemlocks. From Watauga Lake, which forms most of the southern Wilderness boundary, you can see many of the cliffs along the eastern side of the main crest. Just south of Watauga Lake lies Pond Mountain Wilderness. Hunters come here seeking deer and grouse.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) follows the entire length of the crest of the Wilderness, a distance of about 5.8 miles, with a shelter about midway. Off-trail bushwhacking is a possibility and your sense of isolation should be worth the effort, especially in the valley of Big Laurel Branch.