Hiking at Roan Mountain
Located on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line, Roan Mountain is actually more of a mountain range - or a massif - than a single peak. Famous for its Catawba Rhododendron gardens with its brilliant purple flowers in spring, the Roan is a wonderful place to visit and hike any time of the year.
Cross country skiing is even popular here during the winter (as the Roan Massif gets more snow than almost any other location in the area). It is one of the highest ranges in the Southern Appalachians, with peaks topping out at over 6200'. The Appalachian Trail - the main hiking opportunity on the peak - traverses the ridgetops while a few other trails wind around the area, including one fully wheelchair-accessible trail through the main Gardens area.
Besides the Rhodododendrons, which bloom in mid-June, most people will find the mountain interesting for a variety of reasons. The area's balds are probably the next-most interesting feature. These treeless mountaintops offer spectacular views, fields of grass waving in the winds, and an alpine-like hiking experience. In other places, a dense spruce-fir forest grows, some of the healthiest examples of this ecosystem left in the southern Appalachians since being devastated over the last few decades by the Balsam Wooly Adelgid. A unique historical site, that of the Cloudland Hotel, offers a glimpse into the mountains' past while the mountain's name itself has been subject to legends of origin and historcal debate.
What does "Roan" mean? It depends on who you ask. Some say the name refers to Daniel Boone's "roan" or reddish horse, which he supposedly rode into the area. It could also refer to the reddish appearance of the Rhododendron blooms or of various other wildflowers or berries (such as mountain ash) that grace the mountaintop. Whatever the origin, the name has stuck, and it's official now.
Places to Stay
The closest place to stay to Roan Mountain is Roan Mountain State Park located at the bottom of the mountain on the Tennessee side. In addition to the camping and lodging options listed below, the State Park offers a variety of things to do including more walking and hiking trails (12 miles of them), a swimming pool, playgrounds, volleyball, horseshoes, ping-pong, basketball, softball, tennis, picnicking, a game room, and more. For more information, call 1-800-250-8620 or visit their web site.
Roan Mountain State Park Campground (TN)
There are 107 sites with grills and picnic tables. 87 are RV sites with water and electrical hookups; the rest are tent sites with community water spigots. The bathhouses have hot showers.
Roan Mountain State Park Cabins (TN)
Thirty AAA cabins are situated in the woods of Roan Mountain State Park. Each cabin has a front porch with rocking chairs, fully outfitted kitchen, full bath with tub/shower, wood burning stove and gas/electric heat. Firewood, bedding and towels are provided by the park.
There are a variety of (good) ways to get to Roan Mountain. Carvers Gap is located where NC Hwy. 261 and TN Hwy. 143 join on the NC/TN state line. Please use a map!
Straighter Route: This route is longer, but if you easily get car sick, this is the way you'll need to go. From I-240 in Asheville, follow I-26 west to Johnson City, Tennessee (about 50 miles). Take Exit 31 to Elizabethton - US 321. Follow US 321 to US 19E in Elizabethton. Turn right; follow US 19E for 17 miles to the town of Roan Mountain. Turn right on Tennessee State Road 143, following the signs for Roan Mountain State Park. Proceed through the park and up the mountain to Carvers Gap on the NC state line.
Scenic Route: This route is shorter, but much curvier with more intersections. But it also offers the chance to explore the NC mountain countryside and the charming, artistic towns of Bakersville and others along the way. From I-240, Follow I-26 west 18 miles to exit 9 for US Hwy. 19. Take US 19 north for just over 17 1/2 miles (this is under construction to become a 4-lane highway) and turn left on NC Hwy. 197 north. Follow NC 197 north for just over 11 miles. There are several turns along the way; follow the signs to stay on 197. 197 will join NC Hwy. 226; turn left onto 226 north and go 3 miles to Fork Mountain Road. (Continue straight on 226 north when 197 splits back off to the right). Turn right on Fork Mountain Road and go 4.2 miles to NC Hwy. 261 north. Turn left; it is 9.2 miles up the mountain to Carvers Gap on the TN state line.
Follow NC Hwy. 105 S to the intersection with NC 184. Turn right; proceed through Banner Elk on NC 184 to the intersection with NC 194. Turn left; follow NC 194 for about 6 miles to US-19E. Turn right; follow this to the town of Roan Mountain across the Tennessee state line. Turn left on Tennessee State Road 143, following the signs for Roan Mountain State Park. Proceed through the park and up the mountain to Carvers Gap on the NC state line.
Once you are at Carvers Gap, you can just park there for free to hike the Appalachian Trail, or turn up Roan Mountain Road and proceed 1.4 miles to the summit parking areas. There is a $3.00 fee per vehicle for parking at the summit.