Tennessee: Rhododendrons at Roan Mtn.

TwoHappyTravelers are back in the USA and exploring the Roan Highlands, a series of mountain peaks stretching almost 20 miles along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.  If you’re going, be aware that this recreational area is separate from, and about 10 miles south of, Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee.  The Appalachian Trail traverses this region, but the area also makes a great destination for day hikes.

Carver’s Gap, located at the state line where NC 261 meets TN 143, is a logical reference point for hikers.  There is a parking lot and outhouse type restroom here, but no other services.  Today, we are exploring to the west of Carver’s Gap, driving up NC State Road 1430 from Carver’s Gap to the starting point of our hike on the Cloudland Trail.

Our first point of interest was the Rhododendron Gardens.  We timed our visit to coincide with peak bloom season, which is mid to late June.

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This is reputed to be the largest natural garden of Rhododendrons in the world, and it is breathtaking.  Paved trails make the garden handicap accessible.

Farther along is the Roan High Bluff overlook, with long-range views….

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We returned along the same trail, continuing further to join up with the Appalachian Trail and took it northbound towards Roan High Knob, which is the second highest peak east of the Mississippi River at an elevation of 6,285 ft.   (The highest peak is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina, elevation 6,684 ft.)

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There is not a view from this peak, which is in a wooded area and not really impressive for a mountain top.

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After making the summit, we opted to skip spending the night in the primitive shelter on the Appalachian Trail in favor of The Elk River Inn in Banner Elk, NC. After a relaxing hike back to our car, we called it a day.  Tomorrow we will be back to explore a different section of the Roan Highlands.

Details for hikers:  The Cloudland Trail can be accessed from the first parking lot in the Recreational Area to the Roan High Bluff. If you prefer a shorter hike, there are other parking areas closer to the gardens and also the bluff.  Be aware that parking may be limited in peak season.  Access fee is $3.  You should plan to bring correct change since the ranger booth is not always staffed and you would then need to use the self service envelopes.

Hiking distance for the second leg of the hike (from the first parking area to Roan High Bald) was about 1 mile round trip.  Accessing Roan High Bald from this direction avoids the difficult uphill section on the AT southbound between Carver’s Gap and Roan High Bald.  Turn off of the AT at the sign for the shelter.

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This sign is easy to miss (there is no sign for the bald itself).  Then continue hiking uphill past the shelter to the highest point.  When you find the U.S. Geological Survey marker imbedded on top of the rock, you know you are in the right place!


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