The Beer Drinker’s Guide to the Appalachian Trail [North Carolina/Tennessee Edition]

Originally posted on The Trek on September 20th, 2016

Some may say doing a thru hike is like being on a very long vacation, but after a few days in the woods and as you’re approaching town, it can be nice to enjoy a vacation from your vacation! I like to partake by dabbling in what I dream about while on the trail (aside from copious amounts of town food), CRAFT BEER! I normally will budget and go the macrobrew route for the sake of pinching pennies, and free trail magic beer is great, but occasionally I’ll go splurge. Deep down inside, I hate to admit it, but I’m a beer snob!

There are numerous breweries, brew pubs, and bars found in and around trail towns where people of age can pack on those liquid calories and calm those aching muscles. Aside from stuffing my face with food and deodorizing myself and my clothes, I like to set up shop at the local watering holes to see what each state has to offer. Here are some (but of course, not ALL), of the places worth checking out along the trail state-by-state.


In the second chapter of this segment, we’ll start by traveling one state north to North Cakalacky for some of the state’s hoppy goodness off the trail before venturing to Tennessee! The N.C. takes pride in their craft brew and therefore has A LOT of beer available to choose from! Take note, this is only scratching the surface of what’s out there for the taking! Beer Me North Carolina!

Note: No sale of alcohol before noon on Sunday in the state of North Carolina. Distilled spirits are sold at separate retail locations than beer and wine, and can be purchased at the local ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) store when available. Graham County is the only dry county in the state of North Carolina (see side note under Fontana Dam). Growlers can be refilled, but only when labelled by the business providing the refill (ie. Nantahala Brewing Co. can only refill growlers labeled, “Nantahala Brewing Co.”).


FRANKLIN, NC:

So if you’re traveling NOBO, you’ve just made it to the second state on the trail! Congratulations! What better way to celebrate than to visit one of my favorite trail towns, Franklin, NC? The easiest way into town would be by traveling 10 miles trail east on US-64 from Winding Stairs Gap. There are two great watering holes worth mentioning: The Lazy Hiker and the Rock House Lodge.

Franklin ABC store – 175 Macon Plaza Dr., Franklin, NC 28734; 828-369-9247

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  • Lazy Hiker Brewing Company – While road tripping down to Georgia to start our hike, my husband and our buddy briefly stopped by Franklin searching for a quick bite, and stumbled across The Lazy Hiker. We were bummed out that the food truck located outside of the brewery wasn’t open due to the holiday weekend (we were heading down south around Easter), and we were in too much of a hurry to grab a drink, but I knew after stepping foot inside this establishment I wanted to return. I was thrilled to discover later on that I would have the opportunity! The staff were great and if the name didn’t give it away, they’re very hiker friendly as well! My favorite brew was their Slack Pack IPA, and their Trail Mate Golden Ale was really good too! If you’re hungry, the food truck called “Fork in the Road” located in the parking lot makes some delicious grub that you can bring in with you. They make a bangin’ muffuletta sandwich if you’re lucky enough to be there when it’s on the menu! If you’re staying in town overnight on a Saturday, they usually have live music playing on their patio or out back behind their parking lot on their YARD stage. They also have growlers available (in case you want to use it in town and mail it home later), and are a dog friendly establishment! Contact: 188 W. Main Street, Franklin, NC 28734; 828-349-2337; https://lazyhikerbrewing.com

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  • Outdoor 76 (Rock House Lodge) – Part outfitter, part brew pub, a visit to Outdoor 76 will make a hiker happy! Not only do the staff at the outfitters know their stuff, after you do a little shopping, you can mellow out in the back at the Rock House Lodge and try out one of the 18 beers on draft they have to offer! Most of the beer they provide are locally brewed, but they have different kinds from across the US. They also have a variety of wines to choose from as well. I showed up at Outdoor 76 to get a new pair of hiking shoes and was given some of the best customer service from shoe guru, Rob. After choosing a pair that felt right (a brand and style I ended up sticking with the rest of the trail, I should mention), I was testing out insoles to see if they were right for me. He told me to take my time and see if they felt okay, so I went back to have a few brews. I didn’t get the insoles, however the staff and beer selection make this store a must to visit! Contact: 35 E. Main Street, Franklin, NC 28734; 828-349-7676;  https://www.outdoor76.com

BRYSON CITY, NC:

On your way northbound from Franklin, you will be frolicking along the trail and down the mountain (just don’t bust your ass and break anything as you do!), to check out the next beer opportunity at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (aka “The NOC”), right outside of downtown Bryson City. This is a good location to hitch into town if need be, but the trail passes right through the NOC and there’s lots there to enjoy as well.

Note: There is NO ABC store located at the N.O.C., but you can travel to Bryson City’s location: 254 Veterans Blvd., Bryson City, NC 28713; 828-488-6682

Enjoying some CO original, NC brewed liquid gold!
Enjoying some CO original, NC brewed liquid gold at the NOC!
  • Big Wesser BBQ & Brew – I unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to try their BBQ since I have only been there during a hiker feed spaghetti feast that was thrown there, but Big Wesser BBQ & Brew has a decent selection of brews to choose from. Most Friday and Saturday nights, they have live music to enjoy as well. Contact: 13077 Hwy 19 West, Bryson City, NC 28713; 828-785-4837; https://noc.com/places/restaurants/big-wesser-bbq-brew
  • River’s End Restaurant – Another place in the NOC to grab a drink would be at the River’s End Restaurant on the opposite side of the bridge next to the outfitter. There’s a small bar inside with a good selection of beer and the food there is great too (note: their breakfast is the ultimate hangover cure)! If you’d rather not drink at either of these locations and want to take advantage of one of the NOC’s cabins for a nero or zero, head early to the convenience store across the street to get some beer to go! Contact: 13077 Hwy 19 West, Bryson City, NC 28713; 828-785-4837; https://noc.com/places/restaurants/rivers-end-restaurant

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  • Nantahala Brewing Company – Although this brewery is not in the NOC and therefore isn’t conveniently located right off the trail, I’ve been told it’s still a place worth venturing to if you’re able. They offer tours of their brewery on Fridays and occasionally on Saturdays, but if you just want to indulge, head on over to their taproom where they have 32 taps serving beer brewed by Nantahala Brewing Co. as well as other North Carolina and regional beers. I’ve had their Noon Day IPA which I really enjoyed, but if you’re less into hoppy beers, they have other brews to choose from such as their Bryson City Brown, and numerous Seasonals on tap like their Pattons Run Porter. Liquor is served here and dogs are welcome outside on the patio, but not inside the taproom. Growlers are available in case you’re interested in mailing it home afterwards. I doubt you’d want to lug a glass jug along the trail! (Also see above regarding NC growler laws). They don’t serve food, but they welcome patrons to buy it elsewhere and bring it with them to the taproom. Hours of operation vary throughout the year. You would hitch 14 miles East off of Highway 19 to get there from the NOC. Contact: 61 Depot Street, Bryson City, NC 28713; 828-488-2337; https://www.nantahalabrewing.com/

FONTANA DAM (AKA: FONTANA VILLAGE), NC:

Note: Graham County is the only dry county in the state of North Carolina (regarding distilled spirits). Fontana Dam recently allowed beer and wine sales on and off premises as of 2011, and allows the sale of liquor by the drink in licensed restaurants only within city limits.

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  • The Fontana Village Resort – Fontana Village is the exception to an otherwise dry county and provides beer, wine, and cocktails at select locations on site. To get there, you can either hike 3 miles trail west along the Benton McKaye trail, or get a ride to it along NC-28 trail west (2 miles). The Mountview Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and you can order one of their select bottled or draft beers available. You can also go to the Wildwood Grill for a tasty beverage to go with your salad, burger, or Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich with Bleu Cheese Cole Slaw (that’s what I got and it was AH-Mazing!). The Bear’s Den Lodge also has a nice spot on the veranda for a view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before you hike through it yourself. Contact: 300 Woods Road, Fontana Dam, NC 28733; 828-498-2211; https://www.fontanavillage.com

BEER TO GO:

  • Fontana General Store – Steep prices; located next door to the ice cream parlor and laundromat. Limited beer selection to go. Keep in mind, the county is dry so it is advised not to leave the resort with any alcohol although hikers occasionally do so anyway on the “D.L.” – Contact: 300 Woods Road, Fontana Dam, NC 28733; 828-498-2148
  • Fontana Dam Pit Stop – Also a source of beer to go, but with an undesirable price tag and limited selection. Same laws apply for leaving the resort with booze handy. – Contact: 11152 Fontana Road, Fontana Dam, NC 28906; 828-498-2140

Fontana Dam is the last town you’ll be passing by before you enter The Great Smoky Mountains National Park when traveling NOBO. Starting a few miles north of Birch Spring Gap, the Appalachian Trail will be bumping along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Therefore, what state you’ll be entering will be dependent on which direction you head off the trail (East to North Carolina and West to Tennessee). You won’t be completely through with North Carolina on the trail until you reach Doll Flats (North of Hump Mountain), but you will still have brief access to North Carolina towns. Tennessee doesn’t have nearly as much to offer as North Carolina does when it comes to craft brews, but they still have a decent selection worth checking out!


GATLINBURG, TN:

To get here, hitch 15 miles trail west along US-441 from Newfound Gap and keep your eyes peeled for some bear sightings along the way! This tourist town is better known for its wineries and moonshine distilleries, but there’s a brewery that you can check out called the:

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  • Smoky Mountain Brewery – The Smoky Mountain Brewery has four locations, Knoxville, Maryville, Pigeon Forge, and the one I visited in Gatlinburg. The Gatlinburg location is the closest one to the trail, but Pigeon Forge is right next door and you can get there by traveling along the Parkway. They have 7 brews to choose from, not including their seasonal and brewmaster’s specialty selections. I recommend the Appalachian Pale Ale! Contact: 1004 Parkway Suite 501, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; 865-436-4200; 2530 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN, 37863; 865-868-1400;  https://www.smoky-mtn-brewery.com

BEER TO GO:

  • Old Dad’s General Store – If you’re looking for some beer to go you can find a small selection of craft brew here, although much of what they sell is macro brews. If you’re hungry, they sell some bangin’ sandwiches most of the day here as well! – Contact: 1127 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; 865-430-1644; https://olddadsgeneralstore.com

***Note: Sevier County – no alcohol retail sales on Sundays, although alcohol is allowed to be served in licensed restaurants on Sundays. No retail sale of distilled spirits in Pigeon Forge.

HOT SPRINGS, NC:

This is another favorite trail town of mine and the bonus is it’s one of the few towns the Appalachian Trail actually passes directly through. Meaning no need to search for a hitch or to pay for a shuttle to get there. Just use your feet! After hiking a marathon’s distance into town (26.2 miles exactly!), the first thing I wanted was a beer, so the first place I headed was the tavern before they closed for the night.

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  • Spring Creek Tavern – This became our local haunt as we tried to wait out the wildfires in 2016. They had a great craft beer selection (12 on tap and over 50 different bottled brews), and a lot of them are from the good old state of North Carolina! Some NC breweries you may be able to enjoy would be Oskar Blues (although originally from Colorado, they recently opened another brewery in Asheville), Boojum (Waynesville), Appalachian Mountain Brewery (Boone), Triple C (Charlotte), and Asheville Brewing (Asheville) to name a few. The food is pretty darn good too, and they even have an “AT Burger” available upon request built especially for those with a case of hiker hunger! They have a patio area if you want to get out in the fresh air, and when available, you can even reserve one of their three rooms provided upstairs if you need a place to stay. On Fridays and Saturdays, they frequently have live music for your enjoyment. Contact: 145 Bridge Street, Hot Springs, NC 28743; 828-622-0187; https://thespringcreektavern.com
  • Iron Horse Station – I didn’t check out this restaurant and tavern on account that the food menu was a little on the pricy side, and I kept gravitating back to Spring Creek like a bug to a lamp, but I’ve heard great things about the Iron Horse as well! They have both macro and micro brews available, and if you’re not on a strict budget or want to splurge, I heard the food here is incredible! Like the Spring Creek Tavern, they occasionally have live music and have rooms available upon reservation. Contact: 24 South Andrew Avenue, Hot Springs, NC 28743; 866-402-9377; https://www.theironhorsestation.com
Ahhhh.... a dumpster full of ice cold beer. Am I in hiker trash heaven?
Ahhhh…. a dumpster full of ice cold beer. Am I in hiker trash heaven?

ERWIN, TN:

BEER TO GO:

  • Tri City Wholesale Tobacco – As far as I am aware, the only place nearby to get beer in Erwin is a small convenience store downtown with a small beer selection right in town across from Walgreens. – Contact: 224 N Main Ave, Erwin, TN 37650; 423-735-0229

***Note: Unicoi County –  retail sale of distilled liquor, and liquor-by-the-drink sales in bars/restaurants are prohibited. Beer and wine retail sales, and bar/restaurant sales prohibited on Sundays.

ELK PARK, NC:

BEER TO GO:

  • Erick’s Cheese & Wine Shop – There’s a great craft beer selection, much of it brewed in North Carolina. They also have a large variety of wine and if you prefer spirits, there’s an ABC store next door. To get here, travel 13 miles from Elk Park; US Hwy East to NC-194 N to NC-184 S. – Contact: 4004 Hwy 105 South, Banner Elk, NC 28604; 828-898-9424; https://www.erickscheeseandwine.com

***Note: Avery County – retail sale and sales in bars/restaurants of all alcohol are prohibited in unincorporated areas of the county, but laws in incorporated areas may differ.

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ROAN MOUNTAIN, TN:

While in Roan Mountain, I recall being told there was nowhere to purchase beer/wine. The good news is the NC border is nearby and you can purchase beer near Elk Park, NC (see above). To get to Roan Mountain, instead of taking US-19 2 1/2 miles trail east to Elk Park, head trail west 3 1/2 miles.

***Note: Carter County – No sales on Sunday and on select holidays. Other alcohol restrictions dependent on individual city limitations. The following are Roan Mountain restrictions: Liquor-by-the-drink in restaurants/bars is prohibited. Retail sales of all alcohol types allowed (no sale on Sundays), however this is subject to variation by local ordinance.

HAMPTON, TN:

BEER TO GO:

  • Hampton Bait Shop – Inside this bait shot near the Dollar General, there’s a small selection of craft beer available. To get to Hampton, head 2 1/2 miles trail west along US-321, or take the shortcut on the side trail prior (note: for purists, you will be missing part of the trail if you take the side trail).  – Contact: 126 1st Ave, Hampton, TN 37658; (423) 725-2811

***Note: Carter County – No sales on Sunday and on select holidays. Other alcohol restrictions dependent on individual city limitations. The following are Watauga (nearby Hampton) restrictions: Liquor-by-the-drink in restaurants/bars and retail sale of distilled spirits is prohibited. All sales of beer and wine are subject to variation by local ordinance.

SHADY VALLEY, TN:

Shady Valley is considered a dry town even though the county is not. I’ve been told neighboring Mountain City may have a store, however, I was unable to find a proper contact to confirm this. Otherwise, I was told the closest place to purchase alcohol was Damascus, VA which isn’t much further along the trail if you can keep your pants on! If you do decide to try out Mountain City, it’s 14 miles East along US-421 from Low Gap. You will bypass Shady Valley to get there.

***Note: Johnson County – retail sale of distilled liquor, and liquor-by-the-drink sales in bars/restaurants are prohibited. Beer and wine retail sales, and bar/restaurant sales prohibited on Sundays.

**BONUS: ASHEVILLE, NC:**

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This city is not along the trail, but a lot of hikers take to the road to head there for it is the land of plenty… of beer. I didn’t hitch there during my hike, but I’ve been there a couple times, and even stopped there on the way to Georgia. There are many breweries to choose from and even some of the big name craft breweries (Oskar Blues and New Belgium from Colorado, and Sierra Nevada from California), have all acknowledged the prime real estate and decided to set up shop there as well. A lot of the local shuttles provide rides there, but if you decide to hitch, your best bet would be from the I-40 underpass after leaving the Great Smoky Mountains N. P. after crossing Pigeon River Bridge (about 53 miles via I-40 E), or later on from Hot Springs, NC (about 35 miles via US-25 S/US-70 E). I’ve listed some of my favorite breweries out of the ones I’ve visited, but there are plenty more to choose from!

**BONUS: JOHNSON CITY/JONESBOROUGH, TN**

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I haven’t visited Johnson City’s breweries, but I sampled some of Johnson City Brewing Company’s selection in Erwin during their Great Outdoors Festival. They have at least one other in town to try and one more in neighboring Jonesborough. The best way to get to either would be from Erwin, TN, and you would travel 15 miles along I-26 W to get to Johnson City, and 15 miles along TN-81 N (Jonesborough Rd.) to get to Jonesborough.

***Note: The towns of Johnson City and Jonesborough do not allow alcohol retail sales on Sundays, although alcohol is allowed to be served in licensed restaurants on Sundays. 


Some Suggested NC & TN Brews for your Enjoyment:

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  • Lonerider Brewery (Raleigh, NC) – Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen, ABV: 5.8%
  • Catawba Brewing Co. (Asheville/Morganton, NC) – Mother Trucker Pale Ale, ABV: 5.0%
  • Pisgah Brewing Co. (Black Mountain, NC) – Pisgah Valdez American Stout, ABV: 6.2%
  • Highland Brewing (Asheville, NC) – Highland IPA American IPA, ABV: 7.0%
  • The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery (Farmville, NC) – Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout Milk Stout, ABV: 5.7%
  • The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (Charlotte, NC) – Copper Amber Ale Altbier, ABV: 4.8%
  • Yazoo Brewing Company (Nashville, TN) – Sly Rye Porter English Porter, ABV: 5.7%
  • Blackberry Farm Brewery (Walland, TN) – Classic Saison Saison/Farmhouse Ale, ABV: 6.0%
  • Wiseacre Brewing Co. (Memphis, TN) – Gotta Getup To Get Down Coffee Milk Stout, ABV: 5.0%
  • Jackalope Brewing Company (Nashville, TN) – Thunder Ann APA American Pale Ale, ABV: 5.5%
  • Terminal Brewhouse (Chattanooga, TN) – Magnum PA American IPA, ABV: 6.0%

Please Drink Responsibly! Cheers!

I haven’t been to every trail town, so if I missed anything “craft”-tastic, please share in the comments below!

Head Down South to Check out the Beer Trail in Georgia or continue heading North to Virginia!

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