Three Top Mountain is one of the more impressive mountains in the NC Highcountry, located in the northwest corner of North Carolina. Found in west-central Ashe County, the region is known for its erosion-resistent amphibolite bedrock. Three Top Mtn. exemplifies erosion-resistent, as three distinctive, rocky peaks jut skyward along the main spine of the mountain.
Of the eleven subpeaks along the six mile ridge, two stand out. Unofficially named Big Rock and Huckleberry Rock, these two peaks tower to just over 5,000 feet and have the most impressive open rock faces in the region. A rough ATV trail ascends to the top of Huckleberry Rock, making it easily accessible; however Big Rock requires a dense bush wack and mandatory class 2/3 or optional class 4 approach.
Most of the mountain, including the summits, is owned by the state. The NC Wildlife Resource Commission maintain a gameland of 2,808 acres. There are a number of gameland access points that provide for public use of the mountain.
Old logging trails are visible and provide some rough trails on parts of the mountain. Due to heavy logging and very steep, rocky ridges, there are few old growth trees. Despite the lack of old-growth stands, Three Top Mountain is perhaps the largest forested area in Ashe County. With this large area comes good diversity - four different forest types are identified by the NC Natural Heritage Program. Besides forests, other diverse plant and animal life are present on Three Top Mtn. The common raven is found on the mountain along with the state's sole population of bluebells.
Getting ThereThere is no obvious way to find the trailheads for Three Top Mtn. There are four NC Wildlife Commission gameland access points that I've accessed. There is one located in a small development off Ben Bolen/Buffalo Road on the southern side of the mountain. Parking is sketchy and the hike is mostly a very steep bushwack. Another one is located just off Three Top Road at the terminous of the western ridge. There is good parking and it offers the longest hike. The other two access points are located on the northwest side of the mountain. Of the two, only one is worth using. This one is the best trailhead to start climbing Three Top and is described below.
More than likely, you will come from two directions to get to Three Top: through Boone or Mountain City, TN. If you are coming up from the NC Piedmont, take Hwy 194 north from Boone. If you are coming from Banner Elk, take Hwy 421 north from Boone to Hwy 67/88. From Mountain City, take the Hwy 421 south to Hwy 67/88 as well.
Turn by turn directions from the west
Turn by turn directions from the east
Get directions from anywhere!
I trust you can get to Hidden Valley Road on your own. Once you turn onto it, proceed (~1.9 miles) up the hill, past the water tower, and you'll come to a big sign saying private property, no trespassing. Ignore it, because on the left side there is a NCWRC gameland sign. Your ticket for public access. Continue on, still using the milage from the provided directions. Once pass the homes, the road switchbacks more sharply. Take the second dirt road marked with a NCWRC gameland sign. Take this dirt road until it ends at a gate. Park here.
Hike along the old forest road, crossing a creek and winding around a few bends. Do not take the forest road that breaks off to the right a few hundred feet from the start. Stay on the well-defined forest road and it turns into an ATV track. It climbs steeply up the ridge and flattens out after about 20 minutes of steady climbing. A few vague old logging roads are visible and branch off the main ATV track. If you see the rock cairn, keep right. The hike to the top takes about a hour, depending on how good of shape you're in and your route finding skills.
If the web mapping directions do not work for you:
Whether from Mountain City, TN or NC, take Hwy 421 to the NC/TN border at the Trade post office. Turn onto Hwy 67 towards the east. Stay on Hwy 67 (Hwy 88, once in NC) for 13.3 miles. Turn right onto Three Top Rd. Cross a bridge and turn left immediately, staying on Three Top Rd. Go 0.5 miles and turn left onto Hidden Valley Rd. Now, see above.
North Carolina Natural Heritage ProgramThree Top Mountain is recognized by the NCNHP as a national significant natural area and is apart of the nationally significant Amphibolite Mountains Macrosite. The Three Top Mtn. site contains eight natural community types: Northern Hardwood Forest, Montane Mafic Cliff, Rich Cove Forest, High Elevation Red Oak Forest, High Elevation Seep, Montane Oak-Hickory Forest, Heath Bald, and High Elevation Rocky Summit.
A natural community can be an unique form of biodiversity, important in and of themselves and also important as a biofilter in regards to conserving other lesser known or unknown species. They are "reoccurring assemblages of population of species naturally associated with each other and their physical environment." Some examples are: rock outcrop, distinct forest, woodland, shrubland, and wetland types.
Three Top Mountain, in its currently undeveloped state, forms a vital connection to other nearby nationally significant sites - Long Hope Valley, Phoenix Mountain, and Bluff Mountain. This provides wildlife a larger and safer habitat and aids in preserving the surrounding viewsheds.
Shawn C. Oakley, Inventory Biologist
Department of Environment and Natural Resources
An Inventory of the Significant Natural Areas of Ashe County, North Carolina.
- NC Wildlife Resources Commission
Map of gameland
- NC Wildlife Resources Commission
- NC Division of Water Quality
Document detailing the geography of the New River watershed and the Amphibolite mountains
- North Carolina Natural Heritage Program
Executive Summary of Ashe County
- The Nature Conservancy
Three Top Gameland Site Info