The United States Congress designated the Pond Mountain Wilderness (map
) in 1986 and it now has a total of 6,943 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Tennessee
and is managed by the Forest Service.
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.