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Destination Spotlight: Roan Mountain

“Never change your plans because of the weather forecast.” Those were the words of a friend last October when we had planned to hike the highest section of the Appalachian Trail. We stuck to our plans that day – hiking the Newfound Gap to Clingmans Dome section of the trail. It absolutely poured on us the entire time, yet it is now one of my most favorite memories on the AT…. That moment, brings us to now, and my sharing with you info and beautiful moments on the AT – only this time, on Roan Mountain.

After the storm.
After the storm.

Before your journey even begins… Remember one thing – never change your plans because of the weather forecast. If you do, you’ll miss the most amazing moments that Roan has to offer. You’ll miss the feeling of breathing in fog, walking in the clouds, being cooled off by drops of rain, the breeze on your face, the view of clouds you can’t even imagine and of course – you’ll miss any chance of a rainbow.

A backpacker leads the rain.
A backpacker leads the rain.

However, as with any adventure… Especially on an adventure that includes balds, which can be very unpredictable. Be prepared. Check the weather and then, gear up. Keep in mind though, the wrong gear can ruin your trip, just as much as cancelling it due to weather. Need help with gear? Visit your local Rock/Creek, they can help you find the perfect fit for you and your journey. Once you’re packed up – set off on your own adventure on Roan and soak it up!

The Journey – From Carver’s Gap to Grassy Ridge Bald.

Future thru-hikers.
Future thru-hikers.

You’ll begin your journey at the Carver’s Gap Parking Lot, located in the Pisgah-Cherokee National forest on the Tennessee/North Carolina line. Carver’s Gap is a very popular area and parking can fill up quickly – arrive early!  You’ll park and then cross the road beginning the day going northbound on the Appalachian Trail.

Your trip to Grassy Ridge Bald and back will be an estimated 5 miles. Grassy Ridge is made up of three balds and is also the longest stretch of grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains. Once you reach your final destination on top of Grassy Ridge Bald, you will be at an elevation of 6,189ft – making it one of the highest grassy balds in the Appalachians.

If you’re there in the late summer, you’ll immediately notice the Mountain Angelicas blooming along the trail.. Look closely – the bees hanging out on the blooms will be a little drunk from the nectar. This will be just a tiny speck of the magic that you’ll experience on Roan. Past the flowers and tipsy bees, you’ll start your day off in one of the most amazing areas of forest that I’ve seen. Take your time, look around and truly experience it. Once out of the forest, you’ll begin your ascent of the first bald, Round Bald. Believe in love at first sight? If not, you will when you reach the top of Round Bald. You’ll immediately know why you’ve decided to do this hike/backpacking trip.. You’ll also be ready to see what else this beautiful place has in store for you! So, continue on!

Grassy Ridge Forest
Grassy Ridge Forest

You’ll descend Round Bald and then ascend the next bald, Jane Bald. Once to the top of Jane Bald, you’ll see a sign marking her elevation at 5,807ft. Yes, I said her… Because, well – she is breathtakingly beautiful! On Jane Bald, you’ll also find a large area of rocks to rest, have a snack or just soak up the view. Look back at Round Bald, it’s a view that you’ll never forget! Continue north on the AT when you’re finished there and descend Jane. After enjoying more views, you’ll come to a spot where the AT goes to your left and another trail is on your right – that is the trail to Grassy Ridge Bald and is marked with a sign.

View from Round Bald.
View from Round Bald.

This will be the last leg of your journey to the top. Continue on and breath it all in. Once to the top – set up camp, have lunch, or just lie back and watch the clouds float by. To return, just retrace your path back to the AT and then continue southbound until you reach the parking lot. The Grassy Ridge area is a perfect place for a fun day hike or backpacking trip. Planning to stay overnight? You’ll spot plenty of campsites on the balds. All sites have beautiful views and there are even a couple areas with some tree coverage. As always, leave no trace.

Campsite on Grassy Ridge Bald.
Campsite on Grassy Ridge Bald.

 

Finished your journey and want to explore more?

If you finish up and want to explore the area more, take the road at Carver’s Gap and check out the High Bluff, High Knob and Tollhouse Gap areas. There you’ll find the world’s largest natural rhododendron garden, the former site of the Cloudland Hotel and a gorgeous view on the Roan High Bluff Overlook – after taking a beautiful but short, 1.2 mile hike on the Cloudland Trail. Explore this side more to also find the highest shelter located on the Appalachian Trail, Roan High Knob Shelter. The shelter is a few feet from the summit of Roan High Knob, elevation 6,285ft.

View from Roan High Bluff.
View from Roan High Bluff.

1 place, 100 different memories.

Explore new places, but always return to those that you love. Roan Mountain has something to offer in all seasons. Amazing rhododendrons blooming in June, blueberry snacks in July, epic autumn views, challenging yet beautiful winter conditions and the newness that spring brings after a harsh winter. Explore. Rest. Repeat.

 

Recommended Gear List:

When hiking in late summer, especially in higher elevations, make sure you are prepared for a variety of temperatures/conditions.

  • Make sure you have the appropriate clothing that will dry quickly in order to avoid hypothermia.  Cotton clothing is not recommended for hiking in the mountains.
  • Heading into the fall, plan on taking gloves, a warm hat, and an insulating layer.
  • Rain shells are perfect wind breakers for lunch breaks on exposed balds.Wool socks are still the standard selection for hiking footwear, though some people prefer synthetic options.
  • Extendable poles are an invaluable tool if you plan on hiking long miles or steep terrain. You’ll be glad to have “four wheel drive” when things get steep or you just get tired.
  • Plan out a nice spot for lunch. This will ensure that you take a second to stop and really sit and enjoy the scenery.
  • If you are going to be hiking past water sources, there is no need to carry excessive water. Instead, carry a water filter and refill as necessary. Never drink untreated water!
  • Invest in a reliable headlamp that never leaves your pack. Make sure the batteries are charged! You’ll eventually be glad you did.
  • Pack a first aid kit capable of treating a variety of issues you may encounter while in the backcountry; blisters, cuts/scrapes, stings, and common aches/pains.
  • Leave a note telling where you are going, which trails you will be hiking, which trail head you have parked at, who you are with, and when you expect to be back.
  • No matter how many times you have been on a trail, it’s a great idea to carry a map.
  • Take your phone and either turn it off or put it on airplane mode to conserve battery life. Put your phone in a zip lock bag or a waterproof container. If you really want to get fancy, invest in a Spot.

For more helpful advice, come by one of our locations, or give us a call at 1-888-707-6708 (Toll Free). Helping people get outside is what we love to do!

  • Kathy

    what about bears?

    • Mark Bailey

      Bears? Pesky critters. Pay them no mind, and just shew them away. 🙂 Seriously, though, you’d be foolhardy not to presume anything about them. 99% of the time, they’re a non-issue. But that lowly 1% might well ruin your day (and then some)! Always take all bear country precautions seriously, and never forget that Appalachia IS bear country!