Rough Ridge—A Preservation Priority of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation
Turkey Beard in bloom on the rocky ridge
Written by Randy Johnson for Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation
Ever since the rough, stage coach route of the Yonahlossee Road first enticed travelers from Blowing Rock to Linville in the 1880s, countless eyes have followed Rough Ridge up to the grandiosity of Grandfather Mountain.
Today, Rough Ridge is part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the hike across this craggy crest offers some of the high road's most spectacular views. The three highest peaks of Grandfather Mountain tower above. Thousands of feet below, the western Piedmont reaches to the horizon. In the distance, cars make their winding, almost airborne way across the Parkway’s famous viaduct span.
Appropriately, the skyline vistas of Rough Ridge are the scenic high point of a trail named Tanawha, a Cherokee word that means “great hawk” or “eagle.” The 13-mile trail from Beacon Heights (Milepost 305.2) to Price Park campground (Milepost 296.9) was built in the mid-1980s and cost more than $750,000.
Many unique plants struggle to live on this fragile wind-swept, rocky flank of Grandfather Mountain. In May, low-growing mats of allegheny sandmyrtle bloom with tiny, alpine-like red and white flowers. Turkey beard, with its tall showy white flowers, occurs only in the southern Appalachians and provides a spectacular display in June. During August, massive clumps of high bush blueberry attract numerous wildlife species with one of nature’s sweetest fruits. And the seasons are special for more than just the list of blossoms. In September, the northern vegetation on these breezy spruce-fringed crags flashes red and orange long before the surrounding forests.
The scenic appeal of Rough Ridge draws Parkway visitors aplenty, so the Park Service takes special care with the area. Sections of boardwalk have been built to lift foot traffic above the fragile plants. Nearer the peak, trail-defining cables guide walkers and encourage people to avoid stepping on plants that struggle to maintain their foothold on the rocks. Even a few careless steps encourage erosion or cause the easily compacted soil to blow away from the roots.
The National Park Service continually monitors and improves its efforts to protect the Rough Ridge ecosystem. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is launching an effort to establish the Rough Ridge Trail Fund for the needed construction materials to replace and enhance the protective boardwalk and to ensure ongoing protection for this special place on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The campaign goal is $25,000.
For the ultimate guide to Rough Ridge, and not just the reasons to preserve it, check out Randy Johnson's books Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway and Hiking North Carolina. Randy started the Grandfather Mountain trail preservation program, helped design the Rough Ridge trail system, and his books are the ultimate guides to North Carolina autumn scenery.