Roan Mountain is not one mountain, but a high ridge about five miles long that ranges in elevation from a lofty 6,286 feet at Roan High Knob to a low of 5,500 feet at Carver’s Gap. The Appalachian Trail crosses the grassy summits and affords wonderful panoramic mountain views during the ridgetop hike.
There are two distinct sections to visit at Roan. For the best hiking, park at Carver's Gap near the North Carolina / Tennessee state line and hike east (across the road) atop the grassy summits of Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge - five miles roundtrip. This is the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains! Or drive two miles from Carver's Gap into the Roan Mountain Recreation Area ($3/car), part of Pisgah National Forest, for a picnic area, restrooms, paved half-mile trail through rhododendron gardens and a hike to Roan High Bluff.
The Carver's Gap parking area is open year-round (receives a lot of snow each winter). The Recreation Area is open April to November for cars. You can walk or cross country ski into that area all winter.
The summits are always cooler (sometimes 15-20 degrees colder than 13 miles downhill in Bakersville), especially if covered in clouds. The winter is long with a lot of snow. Weather can change rapidly. Bring a jacket even on summer days. See photos of an spectacular winter hike on Roan.
Famous for its spectacular natural gardens of Catawba rhododendrons, Roan Mountain shelters a rich diversity of life, from spruce-fir forests to vast grassy balds. Every June thousands of people flock to Roan Mountain to walk among the magnificent mounds of rhododendrons. (See Rhododendron Festival.) In a good year, these dense shrubs, standing taller than a person, create a spectacular display with thousands of blooms. The peak blooming is usually around mid June. Take a half mile walk through the Rhododendron Gardens in the Recreation Area. Or see plenty of blooms on Round Bald - the summit that rises from Carver's Gap.
Best Roan Mountain Hikes
You can either start your hike at the small parking area at Carver's Gap, or drive into the Roan Mountain Recreation Area (turn at Carver's Gap and drive past the parking area).
Carver's Gap: From the parking area, cross the road to hike on the Appalachian Trail for several miles across Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge, featuring rare and beautiful ecosystems. This is the best hike at Roan, five miles roundtrip to Grassy Ridge with panoramic views most of the way. Or go the other direction on the Appalachian Trail south 1.5 miles to Roan High Knob (more trees on this one). The Roan High Knob Shelter is the highest backcountry shelter on the entire AT. Beware! The weather can be much cooler here and change quickly. Clouds often cover the summits. So be prepared. And this is not a good place to be during a thunderstorm!
Roan High Bluff Overlook
Recreation Area: There are three hikes up the two-mile road into the Roan Mountain Recreation Area (turn at Carver's Gap). At the picnic area, an easy concrete trail starts at the information cabin and winds through rhododendrons to an overlook. You can choose between a short, 0.3-mile loop or continue on a longer, figure-eight loop. The Cloudland Trail is a moderate, 1.2-mile hike from the end of the Cloudland parking area to the dramatic Roan High Bluff Overlook. The 1000-foot drop can make this spot the wettest and coldest on the mountain. You can drive out farther (to the end of the loop) and catch the trail for only a half-mile hike to the Bluff. This area is open April through November.
No one knows the origin of the mountain’s name. Some claim the name refers to the roan or reddish color of the mountain when rhododendrons bloom in June or the mountain ash berries appear in September. Others say the name comes from Daniel Boone’s roan horse, because he and his horse were frequent visitors.
Driving From Asheville
(allow 1.5 hours)
There are several ways to get to Roan Mountain. It's about 13 miles north of Bakersville, NC on Highway 261. Be ready for curvy, mountain roads. See the Google Map below to get directions from your locale.
Favorite Route from Asheville
About 65 miles (allow 1.5+ hours):
- Go west on I-26 about 18 miles to Mars Hill.
- Take exit 9 toward Burnsville/Spruce Pine. Go another 18 miles through Burnsville (or stop for lunch or exploring downtown).
- Turn left on NC 197 North and go about 11 miles.
- Turn right onto NC 226 South toward Bakersville (5.5 miles).
- In Bakersville, turn left onto NC 261 North and go 12.8 miles to Carver's Gap at TN state line.