I'm visiting from the flatland of Florida...this trail kicked my ass, but was so worth it! I hiked it with a local, who was practically jogging up the thing. I had to take a break every 10 steps during the steepest sections. Loved it! Definitely doing the loop again before my vacation ends.
Ed E. on Lovers Leap Loop Trail
Moderately difficult trail with great view of river from apex. Can take off on the AT if you want a longer trail. Recommend good boots.
I covered this section as part of a two day hike that began at the Waterville exit, off I-40. At Lemon Gap, the AT immediately ascends up to the Walnut Mountain Shelter, followed by a descent down to Catpen Gap - to my tastes, the prettiest camping spot of my trip. A further ascent to the top of Bluff Mountain provides an awesome view of the Black Mountain Crest to the east. From Bluff, its a long 4 mile descent to Garenflo Gap. The AT then continues for another 6-7 miles up and along the Deer Park Mountain ridge before descending down into Hot Springs.......where a tasty IPA awaits at the Iron Horse - Cheers!
A great loop hike with several nice pubs and a mineral soak to finish the day - What more could you want?
Like most folks, I recommend doing it counterclockwise:
1) The descent down the Roundtop trail, while not very scenic, provides a pretty neat perspective of the dramatic slope of the ridge.
2) The busier parking area on the Silvermine side is preferable to the relative remoteness of the reservoir at the Roundtop trailhead. The car would probably be fine.....but who wants to ponder such things on the trail?
The whole loop is 13 miles long if you include the extra mile up to and back from the Rich Mountain tower on the AT.
My family and I hiked the trail in early January. It was an easy hike with the kids. Up and back down in about an hour and a half. Makes for a great quick hike. Good payoff views and beautiful along the French Broad. Hot Springs is a cool town as well to hang out.
I did this section of the AT as part of a longer four day hike to Allen Gap and back. I chose to park at the USFS AT parking lot on Serpentine Road in Hot Springs, and then walked through town, over the river, then along the French Broad River on flat terrain. This is a good way to warm up before you start to climb. Once headed up, it's a steady climb on a single track. Proper footing is important because there are some steep drop-offs and the trail isn't very wide and is rocky in parts. A few short sections were chiseled out of solid rock. Once at the top, the views are great. The trails rises and falls and rises and falls from here. On the return trip, you have two other trails that you can take back down to Hot Springs. I took the AT back and the final decent was a blessing.
We camped at Hot Springs campground and hiked across bridge over French Broad river and walked the App Trail( lots of thru-hikers in spring ) up to lovers leap, this short trail to top has lots of switchbacks and washouts which are possibly treacherous, but rewarded with beautiful views of town and river below.