For several years now, I've been wanting to go to the Roan Highlands during the month of June to see the rhododendrons. Finally, this year we had an opportunity to get there around the peak time for the rhododendrons, so we took it. We went the day after the Rhododendron Festival in Roan, Tennessee thinking there wouldn't be many people there. To our surprise, the parking area at Carver's Gap on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina was totally full, as were areas off the road. We managed to get lucky and find a spot not too far from the trailhead.
The hike we planned to take was a five-mile round-trip, ridgetop trek on a portion of the Appalachian Trail, along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The trail connects three balds: Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald (a bald is mostly grassy mountain top). This portion of the Appalachian Trail is supposedly the most beautiful section of the trail (so why hike any more of the trail?), especially in June when the rhododendrons and flame azaleas are in bloom.
Flame Azaleas near Jane Bald Flame Azaleas near Jane Bald Near Grassy Ridge Bald
As we neared what we thought was the end of the trail, we met another hiker going in the opposite direction. He asked us if we had ever been up there before. We told him we hadn't and he told us a "secret." He said that most people think the rhododendron show is over once you reach the plaque atop the Grassy Ridge Bald. He said to keep going on the trail for about a mile, instead of turning left to go to the plaque. So, when we got to the fork in the trail, we kept going. The trail got narrower and headed downhill through some bushes. We weren't sure if we were going in the right direction, but a trail kept going, and so did we. We went under trees and around large rocks.
We came to an opening where someone had pitched a tent. Beyond the tent, the mountainside was speckled with rhododendrons. We kept going along the trail and more and more rhododendrons laid out ahead of us on both sides of the ridge.
The Extra Mile
The Extra Mile The Extra Mile The Extra Mile The Extra Mile
The extra mile or so was certainly worth it.
Once we got back to the car, we drove a short distance to the Roan Mountain Recreation area, which is a part of the Forest Service. The main attraction this time of year is the Rhododendron Gardens. The gardens feature a short trail through some trees that leads to an overlook with a great view:
Rhododendron Gardens Overlook
Not a bad daytrip I'd say. A nice five-mile hike made better (and just a little longer) after talking to other people on the trail. It always pays to say "hi" to folks you meet on the trail.
Keywords: Appalachian Trail, Grassy Ridge Bald, Jane Bald, Roan Highlands, Roan Mountain Recreation Area, Round Bald, azaleas, mountains, rhododendrons
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