October 2017: The A.T. section between US321 (NB Mile 427) and Wilbur Dam Road (NB Mile 431.4), including Watauga Lake Shelter, is still closed to camping due to bear activity. A temporary campsite (no water) has been set up at coordinates N36.29847, W82.12701 (NB Mile 426.5) just outside the Pond Mountain Wilderness. Also nearby is Boots Off Hostel along Bear Branch Road on the south side of the closed section. Vandeventer Shelter is open to the north of the restricted section.
April 2016: Two nights of bear encounters have been recently reported at the Watauga Lake Shelter. The bears were seeking food, thus destroyed a pair of tents, able to shake a bag off the bear pole, and climbed trees for hanged bags.
The US Forest Service has reinstated a Closure Order similar to the previous one which now covers Oliver Hollow Rd./Hwy 321 to Wilbur Dam Rd. – approximately four miles of the Appalachian Trail along the west side of Watauga Lake. No picnicking, lingering, or overnight camping. Hiking, only, allowed on the named four mile Appalachian Trail section. BEARS ACTIVE IN THIS AREA. Help us protect you and the bears. Please hike through the area without stopping. Closure Order: April 15, 2016- Until Further notice.
For TEHCC members, the best recommendation is to avoid this “Oliver Hollow” area and enjoy another section of the Appalachian Trail. For thru-hikers, the word is being gotten out so that they can properly plan their distances. The temporary campsite located south of Hwy 321 above Shook Branch is available for use.
A bear was encountered at Double Springs Shelter. While it showed no signs of aggression, when hikers arrived it did not immediately leave the area. As always, use common sense when you encounter a bear. Most importantly, just because you think you’re a safe distance away, it doesn’t mean that the bear agrees.
Three reports have been recently received of bear activity along the TEHCC section. On June 13th, hikers were disturbed by a bear at Low Gap on Unaka Mountain who would not leave their campsite. Next day (June 14th), a juvenile bear was encountered around Cherry Gap Shelter, who again did not want to leave. The leader used bear spray in an attempt to negatively reinforce the bear, which returned that evening to take a pack. The pack did not contain food, which was properly hung. On June 15th, a third report was made for three miles south of the Mountaineer Falls Shelter. Along the trail it was apparent there was a lot of bear activity. Necessary precautions to limit risk of encountering a bear were taken including hanging bear bags 50 feet or more from the campsite.
ATC and USFS have been notified or provided information on all of these incidents. Warning signs were posted on Monday at trailheads and in the shelter at Cherry Gap. Camping at Low Gap or Cherry Gap Shelter is presently not recommended.
The National Forest Service lands are closed to most recreation from north of Shook Branch to a half mile north of Wilbur Dam Rd. Bears are active in this area. Individuals are only permitted to hike through this area. Please continue hiking through this area without stopping. Watauga Lake Shelter is closed. No preparation or consumption of food or overnight stays allowed. This closure is effective until December 1, 2015.
Oliver Hollow bear closure map