One of the more popular hikes in Western North Carolina, the Roan Mountain Highlands offers stunning views from atop three grassy balds.
On the North side of the Pisgah National Forest, right at the Tennessee and North Carolina Border, is the very beautiful and popular mountain ridge – Roan Mountain. It is not a single peak like that name would suggest. Rather, Roan Mountain is a series of five peaks along a section of the Application Trail as it weaves back and forth between the two states. There are several wonderful hikes at Roan Mountain but on this episode we are going to cover the Roan Highlands which start at Carvers Gap. This gorgeous hike will take you through a spruce forest before crossing three grassy balds that provide exceptional views – Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald. If you hike to all three mountains on Roan highlands hike, the total hike will be about 5 miles.
The trailhead to the Roan Highlands hike is located at Carvers Gap which is literally right at the North Carolina and Tennessee boarder on Highway 261 if you approach from North Carolina or Highway 143 if you approach from Tennessee. There is a large parking area right at the top of the gap with restroom facilities available. This is, however, a very popular area and even though the parking area is quite large it can fill up on busy days. Your best bet is to arrive early. The parking area is about 30 minutes North of Spruce Pine North Carolina, about 60 minutes from Johnson City, Tennessee, or about 90 minutes from Asheville North Carolina.
The Roan Highlands trail starts immediately across the street from the parking area at the stairs leading up to the informative signboards. Since the majority of the trail follows the Appalachian trail, the trail will have white blazes.
Check the signboards for the any news or information on the trail and then head up the very nice gravel trail into the forest. While most of the hike will be atop the bald summit ridge, you are initially treated to rhododendron patches followed by a very fragrant spruce forest. The rhododendron typically bloom in mid-June so if you are lucky enough to visit then you will be in for a colorful treat. The spruce forest, on the other hand, is something to experience anytime of the year. It is very beautiful to walk through!
As the trail leaves the spruce forest, you will come out onto the bald ridge that Roan Mountain is best known for. While there still may be the occasional tree or rhododendron patch, the peaks will mostly be grassy. This area is beautiful year round and is one of the more popular hikes in Western North Carolina.
At 3/4 mile from the trailhead, you reach your first peak – Round Bald. No matter how far you drove to hike in these hills, if you only went as far as Round Bald, it would be worth it. At 5,826 feet, the views are epic every direction. If you head back to the parking area from here, your hike will only be about 1 1/2 miles.
The next peak, Jane Bald, is another 3/4 of a mile along the trail. As you descend on the gap between the two peaks, there will be some more rhododendron and you may even find some wild blueberries. The climb to Jane Bald is a bit rocky and steeper than the previous peak. As you reach the top, the rocky 5,807 foot summit of Jane Bald awaits you. If you turn around here, your total hike will be about 3 miles in length.
The final peak on this hike, Grassy Ridge Bald, should be visible from Jane Bald and is about 1 mile further on the trail. You will descend again on the saddle between the two peaks before ascending the steepest and longest section of the hike. You will also break away from the Appalachian trail about at the half-way point between the two peaks. There is a post where the trail splits and you will take the right fork that heads up the ridge.
You will hike through a rhododendron tunnel and several patches of bushes before the large bald summit of Grassy Ridge Bald opens up before you. It isn’t too much longer and you will be at the top.
Look for the rocky outcropping with a large plaque. The plaque was placed there by the US Forest service to honor local champion of the mountain – Cornelious Rex Peake. The views from atop Grassy Ridge Bald are almost endless. On a clear day you can see Mount Mitchell to the South and Grandfather Mountain to the East.
When you have finished enjoying the top of Grassy Ridge Bald, hike safely back across the other peaks to the parking area.