View Full Version : Thinking of retiring to a trail town

SGT Rock
06-04-2004, 21:25
I plan to retire in about 5 years. I am thinking about retiring to a trail town. I want something where real estate ain't too high and the cost of living ain't bad. I prefer to stay in Dixie. I am thinking somewhere in Unicoi county would be perfect. Any suggestions?

P.S. I would still have to work for a living, just not real hard. I figure in Unicoi (depending on where) I could still find a job in a town nearby.

Jack Tarlin
06-04-2004, 22:09
In North Carolina/Tennessee/Southwestern Virginia, I suggest you talk to the following folks, who are very well informed on this and other subjects:

*In Virginia, try Lone Wolf, who is based in Damascus, and knows the area very well.

*In Tennessee, try Miss Janet in Erwin or Bob Peoples of Kincora Hostel in Dennis Cove (Hampton) TN. Miss Janet has lived in that area almost all her life.

*In North Carolina, try Wayne Crosby or Dan Gallagher of Bluff Mountain Outfitters, Hot Springs

I'm sure all of these folks would happily answer your questions about land, prices, availability, taxes, zoning, etc.

06-04-2004, 22:13

The Tennessee side of the mountains has historicly had lower land prices than the NC side. More job opportunities in many areas, too. Greene county is nice, too. Houston Valley between Newport and Greenville is sweet. If you want some acreage it is easier to find some nice land that lays well all through that area than on the NC side. Some places have access to other trails that are independent or intersect the AT.

You thinking in town or out with the bears?

SGT Rock
06-04-2004, 22:15
I have thought about Virginia and Tennessee. I would love Western NC, but a lot of people have already told me land prices are getting out of hand and taxes are going up. I have family near Culowhee, NC and grew up going into the Nantahalas all the time for family reunions which we would often go hiking and backpacking down in that area.

I like Hampton and Erwin. Mrs Janet's neighborhood was cool. Bob People's house was the greatest, but I doubt I could find two story log cabins within 1/2 mile of thje AT on a normal real estate search :D

I would prefer out in the bear country. Somewhere I could go pick my own sassafrass and mint when I want to.

06-04-2004, 22:41
Build your own! Find a suitable place and I bet you would have more help than you could stand.

There is a lot of variation in the various mountain communities. Suggest you scope out various areas carefully before committing to any purchase. Some are much more congenial than others but some with the toughest reputations are the best places to be and are the most accepting of new good neighbors.

Pencil Pusher
06-04-2004, 23:42
Maybe you could find an area of the trail where you could use your house as a hostel. Maybe one area has expensive accomodations or not good ones. Maybe you could create something unique to your hostel, something thru-hikers would remember it by. So long as you make money and don't let the moochers mooch too much. Have computer access with camera stick readers and cd burners and some wicked margaritas.
Also make sure there's a VA hospital relatively nearby. Don't retirees get free health care there?

06-05-2004, 05:46
I'm sure you thought about Hampton since you did Kincora, but also think about Roan Mountain community..I've always wondered why the locals never jumped on the opportunity where the trail crosses 19E and did a hostel/shuttler/outfitter/etc.
Then there is Shady Valley-abs. beautiful area between Elizabethton and Damascus but being discovered with prices now on the up.
Another awesome are is Limestone Cove, between Erwin and Roan Mountain but also discovered even by the surgeon types in Johnson City because they can hop on the interstate and get to town in 45min.
but agreed that Erwin is a sweet place,,,much growth to occur there now that I-26 is complete to Asheville...
If you find opportunities via papers/internet and need someone to physically check them out let me know...we are all over the area in a months time.
If it weren't for the tax situation I would be in Asheville or Hotsprings but NC taxes everything including your couch.

squirrel bait
06-05-2004, 07:50
Sarge, looked around on the web at Log Cabin Kits and designs for ya, ya being busy being a sarge and all and found to many to list. Hailing from NC I second they tax everything. Look for land and build, and remember to buy builders risk insurance. Good luck and please keep us posted if there is to be a new hostel on the TRAIL.

SGT Rock
06-05-2004, 08:07
I did some looking (not for the log cabin kits yet) but I found a 50+ year old house about the size I need in Roan Mountain for less than $100,000 and I found some land in Erwin for less than $10,000 for a little over an acre. As for a hostel, don't you think with Uncle Jonnies, Mrs Janet's, The Castle, Kincora, and the other one near Kincora (I can't remember the name) that there are enough hostels in that area. It seems like over saturation. I was once thinking if I could ever get land abutting the AT that I would make a "Cammo Blaze" trail that only those that knew the place could look for that would lead to a private trail shelter on the back of the property. Build my own shelter and maybe set up some stuff for the hikers.

squirrel bait
06-05-2004, 08:15
Cammo blaze? How do we see it? Three chevrons pointed in the direction to go? Single PFC stripes spaced apart pointed towards shelter? Interesting :rolleyes:

06-05-2004, 08:44
Hi Rock,

You might want to add one more criteria-proximity to a military base as a gateway to your benefits (such as they are). Be Safe

06-05-2004, 09:38
I plan to retire in about 5 years. I am thinking about retiring to a trail town .... I prefer to stay in Dixie....

Some people define Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh on one end, Philadelphia on the other, and Alabama up the middle :D

papa john
06-05-2004, 09:43
Alabama up the middle

Watch it there are quite a few of us Appalachian Americans (PC for redneck) on this board!:rolleyes:

06-05-2004, 09:48
Watch it there are quite a few of us Appalachian Americans (PC for redneck) on this board!:rolleyes:

Just trying to get a working definition of "Dixie" to help the Sarge in his search. That could be a compliment if you think about it. I've happily and proudly lived all my life in the "up the middle."

06-05-2004, 09:53
While I live in Greeneville, TN, you might want to check out the Devil's Fork Gap area on NC 212. The paved road crosses the AT at the TN - NC border near Flag Pond TN. It is about 3 days hike from Hot Springs and 3 days from Erwin. Not far from the new I-26 at Erwin which would be within an easy hour from Johnson City, Ashville, and Greeneville, TN.

A good second choice in this area is the Viking Mtn Road area which backs up to the National Forest and the AT in Greene County TN. The dead-end road is located off Highway 70S (TN) about 15 miles from Greeneville near the NC line where the road becomes NC 208. Again, it's close to Ashville, Johnson City, Greeneville, and even about an hour from Knoxville. The nearest AT approach is at Allen's Gap on the main road and on Camp Creek Bald at the end of Viking Mtn Road. You can also easily get to Hurricane Gap and Rich Mtn in this area.

If you need any more information about this area, let me know!


Brushy Sage
06-05-2004, 11:27
ATweed's suggestions are good ones for communities that aren't yet saturated, relatively near the bears, and still within an hour of the cities. What kind of work are you hoping to do, and how far are you willing to drive to a job? Any children still in school five years from now? The school bus makes long runs in those mountain areas. If you retire with Tricare, you'll do very well without access to VA hospitals, which are already overcrowded and can't keep up with the veterans' population. Military posts are many hours driving time from the TN/NC mountains, so you'll be mostly living on "the economy." I live in Asheville, and I get out to numerous mountain communities enroute to the AT for trail maintenance. I can't say from experience about the tax differential between TN/NC; I found that my state income taxe in NC is about half what it was where I lived in Maryland. Affordable housing is not all that available here.

Congratulations on beginning to plan ahead for retirement. Too many people wait until the last minute and then have to make several adjustments before they find the right location. Feel free to call or e-mail me.

06-05-2004, 12:55
Have you looked into the area around Pearisburg? This is an older community that has not seen too much developement. If you fish, the New River is in my opinion, the premier smallmouth bass river in the east. As far as jobs in the area there is the Celanese plant nearby or you could set up canoe trips on the river.

06-05-2004, 14:22
There are still several states that don't have a State Income Tax along the AT. Tennessee and Virginia for sure and I think one of the upper New England States also. When I retired from the Army in 1993 I was in Dahlonega, GA. VA care in Atlanta was GREAT but I decided to move back to a home I owned in San Antonia, TX. Texas has no State Income Tax and San Antonio also has a GREAT VA hospital. In 11 years I have never had a problem with the VA.

I don't like hiking in Texas as the green mountains of the AT spoiled me very bad and I don't like being on a trail where walking hikers are expected to stay out of the way of Horses and Mtn Bikes. I want to move somewhere near the AT and also into a State without a State Income Tax. I don't really work outside my home anymore so a real job is not a concern. Medical care is however a concern for me as I am getting older and my only "youngster a daughter" is all grown up and married (out of the house). I do have a 17 year old cat that has most of my hiking grounded for awhile. He has several medical issues but is hanging in there. He will be 18 by the next elections and I plan to register him so he can vote a time or 10.

I am trying to do an AT long hike next year, Springer to Maine, as a thru hike or several section hikes. I plan to do a lot of looking along the way for a place to move to.

steve hiker
06-05-2004, 16:12
Interesting discussion. I'm not near retirement age but I've had a goal for several years now of pursuing a career as a redneck hillbilly. By moving way up in the hills somewhere, where the economy's still a backwater and the land isn't being destroyed by runaway development.

I've thought of north Alabama, which has mountains, a sparse population and a relatively depressed economy. Not much of a rush from the crowds in Florida and points up north to move there.

Tennessee is real nice but is on a fast growth (spoilation) track. Blount County made the list of the "10 Best Places to Live" a few years ago in U.S. News & World Report, and its population has grown by 50% in the past five years. Boomtown. New subdivisions, road construction, strip malls, you get the picture.

Maybe the best bet is a tract of private land within the boundaries of a national forest. I haven't been to Erwin but it's surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest. How much of that land is actually protected from development?

papa john
06-05-2004, 17:18
Virginia for sure

Virginia does have a state income tax.

Here are the states that do not have income tax that are along the trail:

New Hampshire


Brushy Sage
06-05-2004, 18:24
[QUOTE=gardenville]... San Antonio also has a GREAT VA hospital. In 11 years I have never had a problem with the VA.

Lots of interesting things coming along in this thread. When I retired (1985) the VA (old Veterans Administration, now Department of Veterans Affairs) hospitals were taking all veterans, and the backlog for care was tremendous. Then a new policy was instituted. Everyone had to fill out forms and request "enrollment" in the system. Vets were categorized and given ratings on which the availability of care was based. I don't believe I would be turned away in case of a dire emergency; routine care, though, is not an option for me at the VA.

06-05-2004, 18:34
Watch it there are quite a few of us Appalachian Americans (PC for redneck) on this board!:rolleyes:

Hey Papa John! How ya doin? Today in Decatur, Tennessee they held the Redneck Olympics (I am not kidding!) It was a fundraiser for the Decatur Jaycees.

The event featured things like cow chip toss, yard-ornament bowling, and a tobacco spitting contest. According to the organizers, they were not designed to make fun or anyone, just to have some good clean fun.

Jeffrey Hunter aka Little Bear

06-05-2004, 18:35
I am not a vet..but I have volunteered to supply transportation\assistance for some vets to the VA hospital here in ATL...what a mess it is in there.

06-05-2004, 19:39
Rock...one thing you should look at on taxes is not all states tax your military retirement. There was a court decision about 15 years ago that said if a state exempts state pensions from taxes, they must also exempt federal pensions. If you check the link below, you'll find....GA, exempts some military retirement, NC exempts all of it, TN and VA tax it all, WV exempts some, PA taxes none, NY taxes none. Might make NC a bit more interesting for you!

Follow the link and click on Taxes by State


papa john
06-05-2004, 22:18
cow chip toss, yard-ornament bowling, and a tobacco spitting contest What? No hog calling? No melon eating contest? Some olympics!


06-05-2004, 22:29
The area near the A.T. in Central Virginia between US 60 and the Tye River isn't too expensive yet, and still full of rural/mountain culture. I inquired about some land on the road up to Hog Camp Gap a few years ago--it was beautifully situated, had electric and phone not far away, taxes were real low, real estate was dirt cheap but you had to buy all 70 acres or none of it, and I only wanted about 10. I think other land in that area would also be affordable and hopefully you wouldn't have to buy that much acreage.

I live in Page County, VA--parallel to the North District of Shenandoah National Park. Land in the rural areas between Front Royal and Luray--especially further off US340--isn't TOO expensive right now and is alomost guranteed to appreciate as more Northern Virginians (DC suburbs) push out this way. Check out Gooney Manor, Browntown, Bentonville, or Rileyville. This area, with SNP in the Blue Ridge, and George Washington National Forest in the Massanutten Mts. on the other side of Page Valley, is definitely Hiker Heaven. Front Royal is a legitimate trail town, and Luray gets hiker traffic too tho not as much.

My favorite part of the A.T. is the 50 miles +/- between Dickey Gap and Damascus. There are places like Troutdale, Konnarock, and Whitetop where hopefully you could find what you're looking for.

Tim Rich
06-05-2004, 22:56
About five years ago, I heard a speaker (he billed himself as a "futurist" or an economist with a personality) talking about economic trends. His main point was if you're five years away from retirement, you better buy your retirement property now. His second point was if you're ten years away, buy it now. If you're fifteen years, buy it now. He didn't see any letup in mountain and lake retirement property trends. North Georgia mountain and lake prices over the last five years have proven him true.

Good luck in your search. Alabama doesn't tax retirement income, either.


steve hiker
06-06-2004, 16:48
About five years ago, I heard a speaker talking about economic trends. His main point was if you're five years away from retirement, you better buy your retirement property now. He didn't see any letup in mountain and lake retirement property trends. North Georgia mountain and lake prices over the last five years have proven him true.
Another point is that with energy prices spiraling out of control, inflation and higher interest rates are likely in the future. So it might be a good idea to buy soon, to lock in a lower fixed-rate mortgage.

06-06-2004, 16:49
Interest rate???..rock would probably pay cash :sun

Lone Wolf
06-06-2004, 16:51
Damascus. THE place to retire.

steve hiker
06-06-2004, 16:56
Interest rate???..rock would probably pay cash :sun
That would be good. Cash is always best, if you have it. Can't go wrong when it's paid for. :)

06-06-2004, 16:56
I heard they had monsters in VA....old story-teller from NC, Ray Hicks, told me.

Dances with Mice
06-06-2004, 17:04
Where is the nearest Class VI store?

Lone Wolf
06-06-2004, 17:06
What is a class VI store?

06-06-2004, 17:09
hey wolf do you really have monsters in VA like Ray hicks told me?

Lone Wolf
06-06-2004, 17:10
Yup. Tons of them.

06-06-2004, 17:13
that what Ray Hicks told me...he said VA was just full of monsters..GAW

06-06-2004, 17:27
A Class VI store is what your basic liquor store is called on Army and Air Force bases. In the Navy we just called them package stores.

Lone Wolf
06-06-2004, 17:50
The nearest to Damascus is 12 miles over in Abingdon.

Dances with Mice
06-06-2004, 17:59
The nearest to Damascus is 12 miles over in Abingdon.

Class VI are only on military installations, immune to state or local taxation.
Loss of Class VI privileges may be the only thing I miss about the military.

Nearby would also be a Commisary - a grocery store open to active duty & retirees but everything at true wholesale prices without state or local taxes.

06-06-2004, 18:10
In Nc/TN you just buy local moonshine...no state or local taxes

Dances with Mice
06-06-2004, 18:19
In Nc/TN you just buy local moonshine...no state or local taxes

Or Federal, that's the biggee. But most moonshiners are just churning out crank these days.

I guess my question should have been: Where's the nearest military base where Rock can enjoy some of the economic advantages that he has earned?

06-06-2004, 18:20
you can still buy some good shine in NC.

Dances with Mice
06-06-2004, 18:45
you can still buy some good shine in NC.
Outstanding. It's a dying art. Wish I'd gotten my grand-uncles' still.

In the interest of historical preservation and nostalgic purposes only, of course.

06-06-2004, 21:39
Sarge, I heard from Pittsburgh that the house just "northwest" of the AT over Ramrock Mountain, about 2 miles south of Woody Gap, is up for sale as of early April. He was thinking it would be a great place for a hostel. From the summit you can just barely see the roof of what appears to be a relatively new home, but it does seem to be pretty close to the Trail. Good luck in your search.

06-06-2004, 22:06
Yup. Tons of them.

Some of them were trying to get tables at the Old Mill patio when we were there. ;)

Kelly? at the Mill explaining why he chose to live in Damascus: "The women all call you darling, the men all call you buddy, and there's no prettier place on earth". I think I got that right (or close). L.W. Who is Kelly?, and why would a 9-10 year-old girl want his autograph?

I'd love to live in the mountains at about 3000'-4000', but the wife isn't going to go anyplace any colder.

Shoe Leather Express
06-07-2004, 09:08
I haven't read the entire thread, so if this was already mentioned please excuse me.

If you must work when you retire, why not open a gear shop/hostel as close to the trail as possible? You've already built a reputation with dealers and hikers alike.

Oh, and stay out of Pennsylvania. Taxes are too high, and property prices are going up fast.

Brushy Sage
06-07-2004, 11:30
First Sergeant, if you are still considering various states, I suggest you think about the possibility of Madison County, NC. The AT enters the county (northbound) at Max Patch Mountain, and leaves the county just before Big Bald Mountain. Hot Springs is in this county. The new I-26 cuts through the upper part of the county and connects to Asheville (Erwin, TN in the other direction). There is still lots of open country, and numerous access points to the AT. The Chamber of Commerce website has lots of links for exploration. You'll probably have to call them (toll free) for a map.


06-07-2004, 12:19
Oh, and stay out of Pennsylvania. Taxes are too high, and property prices are going up fast.

It's hard to compare state v. state. Varying exemptions and brackets make it an apples and oranges exercise. Nevertheless, Pa., at 3.07% flat, seems to be in somewhere in the middle of AT states. Local property taxes can be a big burden in Pa., though highly variable depending on where in the Commonwealth you live.


The real reason to stay out of Pa. is that the AT isn't particularly beautiful here compared to other states. The hundreds of miles of remote, beautiful, rock-free, shelter-free, deserted trails in Pennsylvania are mostly upstate or otherwise far away from the AT. Not worth the effort. ;)

Shoe Leather Express
06-07-2004, 12:41
The real reason to stay out of Pa. is that the AT isn't particularly beautiful here compared to other states. The hundreds of miles of remote, beautiful, rock-free, shelter-free, deserted trails in Pennsylvania are mostly upstate or otherwise far away from the AT. Not worth the effort. ;)
Sure it is (worth the effort)! Open a shoe store near the trail! :banana

06-07-2004, 14:21
Mountain Mama's is for sale. Just north of Davenport Gap as you are leaving GSMNP in North Carolina. It's in the middle of the Moonshine Belt. 8-)


SGT Rock
06-08-2004, 10:55
I'm on vacation at my mother's house, and her connection is VERY slow, so I won't try to respond to every idea and comment.

I like the list of other places to look. That was sort of what I was looking for. I always wanted to get back to Western NC because that is where my Grandmother's people are originally from and where I got my first taste of the mountains. I love the Nantahala mountains and would love to be along the AT near Wesser or somewhere like that. I picked Unicoi county as a target area based on a couple of reccomendations off line, but that includes stuff north and south along the AT including Damascus and Pearisburg.

I had thought about the military benifits, but when you retire TRICARE now requires you to pay. Being near a hospital that is in the TRICARE system is just as good as being at a military hospital for a retired servicemember these days. That isn't neccissarily good, but it is the way it is. So if it doesn't change things to be near a post, then I don't see a reason to stay near a post. Of corse since I can't use the Class VI I may need to make my own. I went to th JD distillery yesterday and have some ideas. The Commissary and PX can be beaten by Wal Mart and Sams on a regular basis too.

As for a hostel, that is originally what I want to do. But after a conversation with Baltimore Jack, I started thinking about that a little different. I see it as a cool idea, but it would really cut into my hiking when I wanted to. I may not want to put up with drunks (although I do drink) and other unrulely people. If I wanted to go hiking during the prime hiking season, then my wife would get stuck with it, and it is my dream - not hers. It wouldn't be fair to her. But I did have another idea to provide some gear and maybe even a hiker basestation for hikers that need someone to mail re-supply and such but don't have a way to get it - like interneational backpackers and thru-hikers with special diet needs that can't rely on local re-supply.

As for employment. I have been doing a variety of jobs for the last 19 years. I have been a teacher, a recruiter, ran an academy, been in charge of the daily actions of 121 people, been in charge of $100,000+ projects without needing supervison, deployed a unit halfwayaround the world and brought them back, etc. I will make about $3,000 a month in retirement, so all I need is a little extra to keep me in the lifestyle I am accustomed to. With the skills and ability I have (plus $25,000 to finish a degree in whatever I need to) I plan to find out what the job market is where I plan to retire and make myself qualified for whatever I need to do to live there. Maybe I could even get lucky like one of the guys I used to work with and get a job running a camp for troubled youth - basically doing the same jobI do now LOL.

Anyway, thanks all. I plan to do some more research and get on it. The plan is to try and decide now, then start getting land in the area ahead of time. I am thiking 5 year out to own the land and start figuring out what to build, or find out that there are places in the area I want to live for sale that meet my requirments and getting a line on what to buy.

06-08-2004, 13:07

The Tennessee side of the mountains has historicly had lower land prices than the NC side. More job opportunities in many areas, too. ..........................................You thinking in town or out with the bears?

Hey Rock...

we'd be PROUD to have you as a fellowTennessean! :D

06-13-2004, 20:12

Well, at least from my "ME" prospective. Buy somewhere north of Tenn, as I'll be done with that section by then :D Ahh, that's just me being silly, , , sort of.

BUT, if you decide to build, I only work Mon Tue & Wed, so would be avalable to give you a hand (late) Thursday friday & saturday gotta leave by noonish on Sunday. This is for the forseeable future, i.e. the next 2 years or so. I'm not in the trades, but like you, I have done so many jobs.


03-04-2005, 09:06
If you'd consider VA, I'm guessing that in 5 years Tillie Woods might be in the market to retire her Woods Hole Hostel work. She's very spry but I can't imagine she'd want to be a hostess forever. She's just off the trail and Pearisburg is nearby.

SGT Rock
03-04-2005, 09:15
Yep, I know where Woods Hole Hostel is. If I remember right, she and Bill from Pearisburg help out shuttling hikers around that area whenever necessary. I hadn't thought about her retiring from the hostel business, but I guess it is bound to happen someday.

As for retiring to a trail town, I now own a mortgage in Maryville TN 15 minutes away from GSMNP. It may not be a "Trail Town" but I'm close enough to be happy :D

03-05-2005, 12:44
When I was stationed at Ft Campbell I had a friend that lived in Erwin. We went there for a long weekend. My first time on the AT hiking! A great town to me . Not too "REDNECK". But I am from Massachusetts so everyone south of New York is redneck!

Miss Daisy
07-01-2005, 22:56
You can get to Fort Jackson, SC in about 2.5 hours from Western Carolina (Brevard) - ...I do it in a day trip when visiting relatives there and in Columbia....so a monthly commissary trip and PX trip is possible though I usually use the local supermarket anymore...the Commissary isn't that much of a savings especially when you factor in fuel! Besides, if Jackson is like around here (PA)...your butt is kicked out into the local community for Tricare anyway so you might as well find a local doc. Besides, maybe it is just me...but after leaving active duty I really didn't feel like putting up with the "hurry up and wait mentality." After experiencing civilian medical care and civilian customer service...you might NEVER WANT to step foot on a military post again! Hang in there for your 5 years! It beats having to wait until 60 to collect :-)...........Go built that log cabin and enjoy your retirement!

07-02-2005, 01:07
SGT Rock, as a retiree in NC there are a few rules about Tricare you need to know. If you live more than 50 or 75 miles, I cant remember which, from a military base you are only allowed to have the Tricare Basic which is the same as the old CHAMPUS. You will have to pay about half your medical bills. The mileage requirement is set by the base commanders so it varies by state. If medical is an issue you might want to consider something near Dahlonega, Ga. The Ranger base at Camp Merrill is there and might qualify you for the Tricare Prime. NC does not tax any of the military retirement, but you had to have been a resident during a specific time period in your life or career. Its in the fine print in the tax forms. When I stayed at Woodshole Hostel in 2001 Tillie was trying to get the ATC to take over the hostel so she could retire from running it. I dont know the outcome but she was wanting to get rid of the place then, maybe still now. Good luck in your retirement when it happens.

07-02-2005, 13:02
I would recommend anywhere from Springer to Damascus. We like the Nantahalas in NC and the North Ga areas. Lots of whitewater, close enough to larger cities, etc.