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Home > United States > North Carolina > The Roan Highlands

The Roan Highlands — Pisgah/Cherokee National Forests, North Carolina (View Photos):

The Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, along with bordering lands in eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia contain probably the finest scenery in the entire eastern half of the United States. At the heart of this region are the forested ridges and valleys of Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. The forest covers 512,670 acres and lets hikers choose from almost 1000 miles of trails, including 110 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail.

Scenic byways allow motorists to explore heavily forested mountain slopes, pristine rivers, and a tremendous collection of waterfalls. The Blue Ridge Parkway in particular offers visitors an endless number of sweeping mountain vistas, overlooks, and trailhead access points. Due to plentiful moisture and fertile soils, there is an exceptional diversity of flora in Pisgah National Forest.

Nowhere is this botanical richness more evident than in the Roan Highlands of North Carolina and Tennessee. Roan Mountain is legendary for its beauty and wildflowers. Roan High Knob and Roan High Bluff represent two of the five peaks that comprise Roan Mountain. Both peaks are clad in a spruce-fir forest reminiscent of conifer forests in Canada. Between them lies an enormous natural garden of Catawba rhododendron.

Roan Mountain also features a sequence of grassy "balds". The views from these balds are spectacular because they enable hikers to savor almost limitless mountain vistas unobstructed by forest cover.

This rare Appalachian ecosystem boasts a stunning array of wildflowers, including dense thickets of Catawba rhododendron and pockets of flame azalea. I do not exaggerate when I say that the early summer wildflower bloom on Roan Mountain turns this area into probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Here's what writer Kenneth Murray says about Roan Mountain's botanical diversity in his excellent hiking guide, Highland Trails:

The Highlands of Roan are renowned for their unique ecosystems and profusion of rare plant varieties. Except for the tropical rain forest, this region has the greatest variety of naturally occurring flowering species on earth.

The Appalachian Trail extends directly along the length of Roan Mountain, providing the best option for exploring this natural abundance.

Recommended Day Hikes:
Appalachian Trail — Carver's Gap to Hump Mountain (this segment of the Appalachian trail heads north towards US 19-E and includes a short detour to Grassy Ridge; it is an out-and-back hike) - Pisgah/Cherokee National Forests
Round Trip Length: 16-18 miles round-trip (8-9 miles one-way)
Trailhead location: Carver's Gap parking lot on Tennessee Route 143
Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Attractions: Hands down my favorite hike ever! This section of the Appalachian Trail takes you through secluded forest and grassy mountain meadows. The wide-open views of Appalachian mountain peaks are fantastic and endless. Above all however, it is the Springtime wildflower explosion on Roan Mountain that makes this trip so unforgettable. The awesome spectacle of catawba rhododendron, flame azalea and yellow hawkweed in full bloom and the resulting sea of color, must be experienced first-hand. Mid-to-late June constitutes the peak blooming period.

Cloudland Trail - Roan Mountain - Pisgah/Cherokee National Forests
Round Trip Length: 2.4 miles
Trailhead location: Starts at end of the Cloudland parking area near Roan Mountain's Rhododendron Gardens
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Attractions: The trail terminates at Roan High Bluff Overlook where people can take in impressive views of Appalachian valleys and the Roan Highlands

Rhododendron Gardens Loop - Roan Mountain - Pisgah/Cherokee National Forests
Round Trip Length: 0.7 miles
Trailhead location: At Carver's Gap (off Tennessee route 143), turn onto the 2-mile road leading up to the summit of Roan Mountain. Park in the Gardens parking lot near the Cloudland Hotel Site
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Attractions: Paved walkways explore a huge cluster of rhododendron shrubs on Roan Mountain. These dense thickets produce magenta-colored flowers during the peak bloom period in the third week of June

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More Photos:  Page 1 > Page 2 > Page 3 > Page 4 > Page 5

Rhododendron in bloom on Grassy Ridge - Roan Highlands, (June 2011)

Grassy Ridge, Roan Mountain

Rhododendron in bloom on Grassy Ridge - Roan Mountain, (June 2011)

Rhododendron, Roan Mountain

Flame Azaleas along the Appalachian Trail, Roan Highlands, (June 2011)

Flame Azaleas, Roan Mountain

Flame Azaleas along the Appalachian Trail, Roan Highlands, (June 2011)

Flame Azaleas, Roan Mountain

Rhododendron in bloom on Grassy Ridge - Roan Highlands, (June 2011)

Rhododendron, Grassy Ridge

Rhododendron in bloom on Grassy Ridge - Roan Highlands, (June 2011)

Rhododendron, Grassy Ridge

Yellow Hawkweed from the Appalachian Trail, Roan Highlands, (June 2010)

Yellow Hawkweed, Roan Highlands

Rhododendron in bloom on Grassy Ridge - Roan Mountain, (June 2011)

Rhododendron, Roan Mountain

More Photos:  Page 1 > Page 2 > Page 3 > Page 4 > Page 5

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