Johnson County has many springs and streams. The five major streams are Doe, Roan, Laurel Fork, Beaverdam, and Forge. Roan and Beaverdam are the largest of these. Roan Creek is a tributary of the Watauga River and Beaverdam Creek is a tributary of the South Fork of the Holston River. Watauga River is also in Johnson County.
Watauga Lake is in the south of Johnson County. It is 1,960 feet above sea level. This makes Watauga Lake the highest lake in the Tennessee Valley Authority System. There are 106 miles of shoreline. Watauga Lake is 19 miles across.
Johnson County has some rich farming land. The most fertile land in the county is along the Little Doe and Roan Creeks. Shady Valley also had some rich farming land.
You can find 20 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail in Johnson County. It comes into the county at Watauga Lake and runs along the top of the Holston Mountain Range.
During the early 1900?s one of the primary industries in the Southern Appalachian Mountains was timber harvesting. The Tennessee Lumber Company moved to the Sutherland area at this time and set up a mill to cut timber. The company hired 400 men to keep the operation running. The Tennessee Lumber Company sawed 100,000 board feet a day. To get the timber to market, railroad lines were constructed throughout the land. Most of the track was laid following the natural terrain. In 1901 the Empire Mining Company was laying track and they came to a stone ridge that stands seventy-five feet high, and was approximately 20 feet thick. The ridge was named Backbone Rock because of its appearance. This rock was above the Sutherland Community. It was an extension from the Iron Mountain Range. Beaverdam Creek flowed around the end of the rock The company decided to blast a short tunnel through the rock to lay its tracks. The Empire Mining Company built the Beaver Dam Railroad to connect with the Virginia-Carolina line. After the tunnel was blasted and the track was laid the smoke stack of the train?s engine could not pass through the tunnel. The top of the tunnel had to be hand chiseled to eliminate this problem.
The lumber was about used up by 1912 and the Tennessee Lumber Company moved its saw mill. After logging stopped the United States Forest Service used the railroad bed as a truck trail. A trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930?s to the top of Backbone Rock above the tunnel. Today Highway 133 goes through the tunnel.
The area around Backbone Rock was developed by the Tennessee Wildlife Agency for camping, picnicking, fishing, and hiking. Beaverdam Creek runs next to Backbone Rock and through the picnic area. You will find 44 picnic tables, two logged sheltered picnic tables, open fireplaces, horseshoe pits, and camping sites. There are several hiking trails. One goes across the top of the rock. Another hiking trail takes you to Backbone Rock Falls. Now the area is part of the Cherokee National Forest
"The Snake" Motorcycle Road Trip
Motorcyclist from all over have been traveling to Johnson County Tennessee to ride "The Snake". Packed with incredible mountain scenery, The Snake motorcycle trip is said to have 489 curves, 3 mountains, 1 valley packed into 33 miles!
Doe Mountain Recreational Area
Johnson County is home to the Doe Mountain Recreation Area with 8,600 acres of protected mountain terrain, offering over 50 miles of blazed multi-use adventure trails. ATV riders, hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders are welcome at this family wilderness area. There are currently two main attractions at Doe Mountain. The Kettlefoot Fire Tower that sits atop the mountain at 3800 feet elevation offering long range views into Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. There is also a short hike to Chimney Rock Overlook to experience breathtaking views of the Roan Creek Valley and beyond.
Doe Mountain is in the process of expanding their entire trail system, including the addition of more Multi-Use Trails, some Hiking Only Trails and some Mountain Biking Only Trails. There are also plans to open up a back country area that will provide longer more difficult hiking trails, backpacking opportunities and primitive camping.
The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine. Twenty miles of the trail is in Johnson County. The trail enters the county at the western end by Watauga Lake. The trail goes approximately 4 miles to the visitor center at Watauga Dam. About 14 miles up, the trail crosses Cross Mountain Road. This is a dirt road that connects Doe Valley with Shady Valley. The Appalachian Trail crosses to the other side of Shady Valley and follows Holston Mountain above Shady Valley. You may access the trail nine miles from the Cross Mountain Road by U. S. Highway 421 at the top of Holston Mountain at the Johnson County and Sullivan County line. The trail follows Holston Mountain above Shady Valley. A two mile trail connects the Appalachian Trail to Backbone Rock. Seventeen to eighteen miles from the Highway 421 connection the Appalachian Trail reaches Camp Ahistadi in Laurel Bloomery.
Other hiking trails in the Cherokee National Forest of Johnson County include:
a one-mile circle at Backbone Rock
Iron Mountain Trail (follows the Iron Mountain Ridge)
Pond Mountain Trail (begins at Little Stony Creek Road and goes 5.9 miles)
Watauga's surface covers 10.05 square miles of two mostly-rural Tennessee counties: Johnson County and Carter County. Started in 1942 and finally dammed on the last day of 1948, Watauga Lake is the TVA's highest-elevated reservoir in Tennessee. It is surrounded by densely forested mountains in the "high country", Watauga Lake sits 1,959 feet above sea level at "full pool" (full summertime elevation). It is usually a few degrees cooler than similar locations closer to sea level.
Watauga Lake is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest in northeastern Tennessee, enjoys the most stunningly beautiful lake and mountain views in the "Volunteer State". This lake is accessible only by winding mountain roads and is highlighted by the Appalachian Trail which crosses the southwestern tip of Watauga Lake.