Escape to Roan Mountain

A hiking trip to Roan Mountain also known as the Roan Highlands is the perfect way to get away. Roan Mountain is 6,285 feet high and stands at the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. A few of the mountains here are natural “grassy balds” which means no trees or only very small shrubby trees grow on top of the mountains. They are natural highland meadows. Once you climb to the tops of these balds you can see for miles around. The Appalachian Trail crosses the top and this is one of the few places where the Trail rises above 6000 feet.



I thought these natural grasses were pretty. They look soft and feathery.

Our hike meandered through the spruce forests where large boulders covered in moss sit beside the trail. I nicknamed one the old man of Roan (after the “old man” rock formations in Scotland.) ;) (Below)
Roan Mountain is comprised of five mountain peaks divided into two sections. Roan High Bluff and Roan High Knob have spruce forests. The natural Rhododendron Gardens lies between these in Cloudland. Parts of this area are called Cloudland because the clouds are literally down on the ground. It was so foggy when we were on this part of the mountain, we couldn’t see very far. It’s a neat feeling to be up in the clouds. The below pic shows Roan High Knob surrounded by clouds while we were hiking on Round Bald.As for the Catawba Rhododendrons, this is the most massive group of the shrubs growing anywhere in the world. The day we went, the rhododendrons were at their peak, and a week ahead of their Rhododendron Festival. The interesting thing about these bushes is they appear to have been trimmed by someone, but they haven’t. The look is completely natural.

The other section of Roan Mountain is called Grassy Ridge. There are seven miles of grassy bald divided into Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald. We hiked to the top of Round Bald. The elevation here is 5,826 feet. From here, we had an awesome 360 degree view of some amazing scenery.

(Above) A view of Jane Bald (shorter and in front) and Grassy Ridge Bald from Round Bald. And another view of it below.

This area lies in a Canadian temperate zone. The temperature at the top of Roan Mountain feels about twenty degrees cooler than down in the valleys where everyone lives. The wind blows like crazy and the air is fresh and crisp. We had to wear jackets, even in June. Alpine plants, such as rare moss and heather, which are generally found much further north and in Canada reside at the top of the grassy balds of Roan Mountain. The climate, temperature, wind, clouds and scenery here reminds me of Scotland.
Flame Azaleas are another beautiful native treat.


“It is the most beautiful of the high mountains… with Carolina at its feet on one side and Tennessee on the other, and green ocean of mountains rising in tremendous billows around her.” ~Dr. Elisha Mitchell
18 Responses
  1. Randy Says:

    As usual, GORGEOUS pictures, Vonda! Plus, good reporting.:) I found myself wondering about stuff, then you answered my questions in the very next paragraph.


  2. Thanks Randy!! So glad you liked them.


  3. Carly Carson Says:

    Yes, the pictures are amazing and it does look like Scotland. I was wondering about the Canadian temperate zone. For a moment, I thought you were in Canada.

    The only things missing are the sheep!

    I also learned something new. I always thought Mt. Katahdin (Maine, the terminus of the Appl. Trail) was the highest point on the trail.


  4. Lu Says:

    Beautiful pictures, and they do remind me of what I imagine Scotland is like. Not been yet, but it's on my list.


  5. Thanks Carly!! I agree it must be a lot like Canada. (I've never been.) But it was so much like Scotland it was almost being there for a wee time--the mist, the cool temps, the harsh wind, not many trees. Brought back nice memories. I should've checked my factiods before posting them. LOL Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I've now corrected my error. Apparently the highest elevation of the Appalachian Trail is 6,625 feet – on Clingmans Dome in Tennessee. Katahdin is 5268 according to what I could find online. Must go to Clingman's Dome next! :)


  6. Thanks Lu! The photo of Grassy Ridge Bald reminds me so much of some of the Scottish Highlands look.


  7. Spectacular scenery, Vonda. I could almost hear the pipes playing in the distance!


  8. Jody Says:

    The heather that is found there is possibly there because the area was home to expat scots and irish? Lovely pictures of the rhodys, I miss the ones we had in Seattle and the PNW. Reminded me a bit of the Shandoah mts.


  9. Thanks Pat!! Bagpipes would sound awesome on top of that mountain. Sigh.


  10. I'm not sure about the heather. I haven't researched it. I'd love to go back in August and see if it's blooming. I have a great fondness for rhododendrons.


  11. Breathtaking. Of course, I wouldn't expect anything less from this part of the world. And you are right, there are parts that so resemble Scotland.

    Did you know that 450 million years ago that Scotland was part of North America? I was so engrossed in the History Channel's accounting of the formation of Loch Ness I had to buy it. Maybe this is why you are seeing resemblance here??

    Thanks for sharing.


  12. Maeve Says:

    Those pictures were breathtaking. I could almost smell the crisp, clean air. Thanks so much for sharing them with us. :)


  13. Beautiful, beautiful! Enjoyed the pictures. That must have been a very enjoyable trip! Thanks for sharing.


  14. Paisley,
    Thanks!! I saw that show on History Channel. Loved it! Yes, I thought it was neat that Scotland was part of North America long ago. Scotland has some amazing and beautiful rocks.


  15. Maeve, thanks!! I'd love to be up there in the cool air today considering how hot it is most everywhere.


  16. Carol, thanks!! Yes, it was a fun trip! We'd love to hike to the top of Grassy Ridge Bald next time if our feet don't start hurting. :) In the other direction Roan High Bluff has some amazing views. We hiked there a few years ago.


  17. Carly Carson Says:

    I was not trying to correct you though. I really thought it was Katahdin so I looked it up and decided it wasn't so I bought your story! But I was glad to come back and look at the pictures again.

    Paisley, they've also proven that rocks in the Boston area were originally part of Africa (4th grade geology mom here, lol).


  18. Oh that's okay, Carly. It was interesting finding out about the highest point. Plus I hadn't heard of Katahdin before and enjoyed researching pics of it. I love geology and that sort of thing.


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