Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on October 20, 2023.
Roan Mountain is a series of five mountaintop summits within the Roan Highlands that straddle the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The named summits include:
- Roan High Bluff
- Roan High Knob
- Round Bald
- Jane Bald
- Grassy Ridge Bald
While hiking Roan Mountain, you’ll find the largest natural rhododendron garden, the longest stretch of grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains, rocky outcrops, and epic views of North Carolina’s High Country.
Here are a few landmarks that are easy to spot on clear days:
Tennessee’s portion of the Roan highlands is also wonderful, but we at NC Tripping are obviously biased!
Many Appalachian Trail hikers know the area very well, but you can also drive to the Carvers Gap Roan Mountain parking lot and Carvers Gap trailhead.
From this popular AT stop, you can hike east on the North Carolina side to Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald. Hike west to Roan High Bluff and Roan High Knob on the Tennessee side.
Our guide shares Roan Mountain hiking info from either direction, detailed driving directions, the best time of year to visit, safety tips, and more things to do in nearby mountain towns.
Here’s how we’ve organized this article:
- Where is Roan Mountain? (Driving Directions from Asheville and Boone)
- When to Visit
- Before You Go: Leave No Trace Reminder
- Safety Info (Temperature Changes and Severe Weather)
- Hiking Roan Mountain from Carvers Gap with Kids
- Hiking East from Carvers Gap (to Round Bald, Jane Bald, and Grassy Ridge Bald)
- Hiking West from Carvers Gap (to Roan High Bluff and Roan High Knob)
You can continue reading for those important driving directions or skip ahead to another section.
Where is Roan Mountain? (Driving Directions from Asheville or Boone)
Note that cell service is spotty in this area. Screenshot our directions for your drive back home!
Roan Mountain lies along the North Carolina-Tennessee state line. On the NC side, it’s within Mitchell County lines, about 13 miles north of Bakersville.
Carvers Gap From Asheville (1 hour 27 minutes)
- Drive west on I-26 to Mars Hill and take Exit 9 toward Burnsville.
- Turn left on NC 197 North and continue for 11 miles.
- Turn right on NC 226 South toward Bakersville until turning left on NC 261 North.
- Drive 12.8 miles to Carver’s Gap and the Tennessee border. The parking lot will be on your left.
Read More: Day Trips from Asheville
From Boone (1 hour)
- If you are traveling from the Boone and Blowing Rock areas (approximately 1 hour), follow NC-105 South and NC-194 South through Banner Elk.
- Turn right on to US-19E for approximately 6.6 miles.
- Turn left onto TN-143 South and drive for 12.6 miles. The parking area will be on your right.
Read more: The Best Day Trips from Boone
When to Visit Roan Mountain and Carvers Gap
Honestly, the best time of year to hike Roan Mountain is now!
Summer is the most ideal time to visit, especially when the rhododendrons are blooming. Mid-June is usually when the flowers are predicted to come in, though weather and climate factors can dictate otherwise!
The NC Rhododendron Festival in Bakersville usually kicks off on the third weekend of June. This is a great event to keep in mind if you’re planning a summer Roan Mountain hike.
If you miss the rhododendrons during summer, you might catch the flame azaleas that bloom soon afterward.
However, summer isn’t the only time to visit. Our first hike of Roan Mountain was in mid-October during peak leaf season. While I thought that the grassy bald wouldn’t be an ideal location during fall, I was proven wrong.
Roan Mountain is now one of our favorite fall hikes and we think it’ll be one of yours, too!
What is lush and green during the summer gives way to yellows mixed with fall colors. This scene, along with clearer skies, makes photos absolutely beautiful.
Winter at Roan Mountain is also nice, especially if the area has been dusted by snow.
Before You Go: Leave No Trace Reminder
As always, leave no trace while visiting Roan Mountain whether you’re there for day hikes or longer backpacking trips.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy maintains this trail, thanks to the efforts of volunteers and donations from fellow hikers like you and me.
Also, Roan Mountain’s wildflowers and rare plant life deserve our respect. That means we shouldn’t pick these beauties and should leave them in nature where they belong.
If you leave those beautiful flowers and plants alone, pack out all your trash, and stay on the trail, you’ll help keep this mountain beautiful for the next person!
Before you arrive to hike Roan Mountain, we think you should know the following important things:
- Understand that the elevation at Roan Mountain makes temperatures colder much colder than in neighboring towns—sometimes a 20-degree difference!
- Make sure to pack appropriately and prepare to dress warmer.
- The weather here can change quickly.
- For example, we’ve arrived to clear skies only to have entire balds covered by clouds within minutes!
- Try to arrive early in the morning and you’ll be treated to mostly clear views of surrounding mountains.
- Above all, please be mindful of severe weather here because a high, open mountain bald is not a safe location during a thunderstorm.
Read More: National Parks Sites in North Carolina
Hiking Roan Mountain from Carvers Gap with Kids
Hiking Roan Mountain from Carvers Gap is quite easy (but not flat) and therefore perfect for hiking with kids. You can reach the first summit in less than a mile with a total gain of elevation of 300ft.
From here, you can continue on to more balds or just enjoy the first summit with a picnic.
During the summer months, the Roan Mountain Recreational area is open ($3/car) and includes a picnic area, restrooms, and a paved trail through the rhododendrons.
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Hiking East at Roan Mountain Carvers Gap
First, we’ll start with how you can hike east, on the North Carolina side of Roan Mountain and the Appalachian Trail:
To hike east from the Carvers Gap parking lot, cross NC-261/TN-143.
From the parking lot to Grassy Ridge Bald, it’s 2.5 miles and a 5-mile roundtrip hike. Overall, the hike gains about 1,200 in elevation.
Hiking to Round Bald
- The first bald summit (Round Bald) occurs after a 3/4 mile upward ascent that has a 300 ft elevation gain. During this part of the hike everything to your right is North Carolina (south), and views to the left (north) are Tennessee State Parks.
- Once you reach the summit, you will be sitting at 5,826 feet with sweeping views of the valley.
- Some of the High Country’s biggest landmarks will come into view, especially on clear days. You can easily see Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain next to it, for example. Table Rock Mountain in the Linville Gorge (near Morganton) is another iconic peak you can spot from this bald and others along the way.
Read More: How to See Linville Falls
From Round Bald to Jane Bald
From Round Bald, you’ll hike another 3/4-mile down and then back up to Jane Bald (5,807ft). This part of the hike is filled with collections of rhododendrons and flame azaleas.
Mid-June is a perfect time to hike here for the blooms, but as we will always say, this is a great hike throughout the year, as long as the weather cooperates.
Jane Bald to Grassy Ridge Bald
- After Jane Bald, you’ll descend before ascending again to reach Grassy Ridge Bald (6,189 feet).
- There is a junction on the way to Grassy Ridge Bald, 1/2 mile after Jane Bald. Turn left and you’ll continue on the Appalachian Trail and keep straight to continue toward Grassy Ridge Bald via a spur trail.
- The diversion to Grassy Ridge Bald is another 1/2 mile, making the total hike 2.5 miles one way from the parking lot (5 miles round trip).
- This climb to Grassy Ridge Bald is the hardest on this side and the narrowest in spots. A huge reward of this portion of the hike is the continued presence of flame azaleas and rhododendrons.
- When you reach the top, there’s a plaque dedicated to Cornelious Rex Peake, a local who advocated for Roan Mountain.
- The top of Grassy Ridge Bald also provides wonderful views, with North Carolina’s peaks to the left (south) and Tennessee to the right (north).
Read more: The Best Black Mountains Hikes
Hiking West from Carvers Gap (to Roan High Knob Shelter and Roan High Knob)
You can also hike west on Roan Mountain toward Roan High Knob and the Roan High Knob Shelter (4.5 miles roundtrip) and Roan High Bluff via the Cloudland Trail (2.5 miles roundtrip).
From Memorial Day to the end of September, you can park in the Roan Mountain Recreational area and make it a shorter hike. However, the gate will be closed any other time of year and you’ll have to start at the Carvers Gap parking lot, adding three to four more miles to your hike.
The views are not as impressive during the hike to Roan High Knob, but the trail does lead to the Roan High Knob Shelter. It’s the highest elevation shelter on the entire Appalachian Trail.
For the Cloudland Trail, you’ll park near the Historic Cloudland Hotel, which was once a destination for travelers in the late 19th century.
When heading to Roan High Bluff, you’ll find yourself more forest bathing in the rhododendrons, which is perfect in the summer. The trail will still lead to views at Roan High Bluff, though, so don’t count it out!
Ready to Hike Roan Mountain?
This portion of the Appalachian Trail is truly one of our favorite hikes in Western North Carolina. You can make it whatever you want, from a short day hike to the first bald or longer hikes to all five summits.
We can’t wait to keep exploring this area along our northwestern border and look forward to sharing more with you as we do!
Have you ever hiked Roan Mountain on either side of the border? We’d love to read what you thought of this awesome series of trails and the epic views that await.
When you make it here, don’t forget to join our Facebook Group and share photos from your Roan Mountain hike!
More Things to Do Nearby
The closest place to stay is at a cabin or campground inside Roan Mountain State Park on the Tennessee side of the border. Here are the closest places to visit on the North Carolina side.
Bakersville is a small mountain town that is also the county seat of Mitchell County and home to the co-op art gallery, Mica Gallery. The town is also home to Penland School of Craft, which has guided and drawn world-class artists for decades.
As we mentioned, check out the annual Rhododendron Festival held on the third weekend of June. It’s a huge event and a great showcase of the area.
Like Bakersville, Burnsville is one of our favorite mountain towns because of its charm and proximity to the outdoors. Downtown, you’ll find a variety of quaint shops, a fantastic brewery (Homeplace), and plenty of great restaurants.
Burnsville is typically our base when hiking Carvers Gap, but also for exploring the Black Mountains that surround it. This includes the following hikes:
- Mount Mitchell State Park
- Roaring Fork Falls
- Setrock Creek Falls from the Black Mountain Campground
- Crabtree Falls from the Blue Ridge Parkway
Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes