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Unaka Mountain

Birding Seasons:
Spring A
Summer A+
Fall A
Winter B (access limited)

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Site Description and Habitats

The lowlands of Unaka Mountain contain oak-chestnut and mixed mesophytic forests including buckeye, Sugar Maple, Yellow Birch, beech and hemlock. As the elevation increases, blueberry and laurel are found. In the higher slopes beech-maple and spruce-fir communities dominate with grassy balds and rhododendron patches. Rock Creek Campground is typical of low elevations. At Beauty Spot, grassy balds are present. High elevation sites like Stamping Ground Ridge and the Unaka Mountain summit contain the evergreen forests. The Unaka Mountain Wilderness at 4,500' contains 4,496 acres.

Explore trails, creeks and rhododendron thickets, and any and all overlooks as the birds are wonderful and the views phenomenal. Traffic is usually very light, so sometimes just pulling over to the side of the road and birding can be excellent.

Bird species of interest

Spring and Fall Migration: Nearly all warblers, vireos, thrushes and flycatchers can be found in migration. Highlights include Palm, Blackpoll (spring only), Cape May, Bay-breasted Warblers,among others, Eastern Bluebirds and Dark-eyed Juncos move up to high elevations in spring. Broad-winged Hawk, Barn and Tree Swallow. In fall, Tennessee and Black-throated Blue Warblers and Swainson's Thrushes can be extremely abundant, along with large flocks of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

Summer: Local breeders and many are unique to Unaka mountain and nearby Roan Mountain: Magnolia and Canada Warbler (local specialities), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Blue Warblers (common), Winter Wren, Chestnut-sided, Hooded, Worm-eating, Black-and-White, and Blackburnian Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Wood Thrush. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Appalachian mountain race) is very rare in Tennessee in summer, but occurs here with some effort (PLEASE report any sapsuckers in summer!).

Winter: Golden Eagles are in the area and may be flying around on sunny days, but the loop may be closed due to road conditions.

Year-Round: Northern Saw-whet Owl (possibly absent from higher elevations in winter), Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin (possible year round), Common Raven, Barred Owl, Ruffed Grouse.

Species list via eBird Hotspot Explorer - Unaka Mountain entirety
Species list via eBird Hotspot Explorer - Beauty Spot

Submit your data to eBird here

Other wildlife viewing opportunities
White-tailed Deer, Black Bear

Detailed directions for birding Unaka Mountain
From the junction of I-81 and I-26, follow I-26 South for 28 miles to Erwin's Main Street (Exit 19). Follow signs to Tennessee Route 107 West to 10th Street and Tennessee Route 395 and turn left. Drive east on Rte. 395 toward the Tennessee-North Carolina state line for 3.3 miles to Rock Creek Campground. Thirty-one mile tour of Unaka Mountain follows TN 395, Forest Service Rd 230, and TN 107 west. Gravel roads in many areas on Unaka Mountain.

Large RV's NOT recommended. Four-wheel drive may be needed in wet conditions.

Lat-Long (GPS) coordinates
Rock Creek Campground: 36.13686, -82.35277
Beauty Spot Gap - overlook (awesome spot!): 36.117692,-82.332896
Unaka Mountain Wilderness: 36.1444, -82.29305

Fees and Hours
Open year round, daylight hours. No fees associated with daily use.

There are no restroom facilities.

Forest service roads may be closed for snow or ice.

Unaka Ranger District
4900 Asheville Highway, Greeneville TN 37743
(423) 638-4109

Info for other sites
Tennessee's Watchable Wildlife web site