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Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

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Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge

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  • Dark grove of balsam fir early in the trail.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Appalachian Trail meandering along the top of the balds.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • The Appalachian Mountains.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Taking it all in.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Camping on the bald.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Sun-soaked rocks on top of the mountain.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Rhododendron tunnel along the trail to Grassy Ridge Bald.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Along the top of Grassy Ridge Bald.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • View over the rhododendrons on top of Grassy Ridge.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Great photo spot.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • Some parts of the trail are rocky.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
  • The panorama is like a painting everywhere you look.- Roan Highlands: Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Huge views. Wildflowers. Appalachian Trail.
Cons: 
Parking can fill up.
Region:
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Highest point: 
6,175.00 ft (1,882.14 m)
Net Elevation Gain: 
700.00 ft (213.36 m)
Year round: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
None
Permit required: 
No
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
5.00 mi (8.05 km)
Total elevation gain: 
1,000.00 ft (304.80 m)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
5,475.00 ft (1,668.78 m)
Typically multi-day: 
No
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

The Appalachian Trail follows the entire spine of America's eastern mountain range from Georgia to Maine. Along its 2,200 miles, few sections are as spectacular as the Roan Highlands. This is the longest stretch of grassy balds in all of the Appalachians, and it includes more than 5 miles of gently sloped summits that together form Roan Mountain. It is also one of the highest sections, cresting at more than 6,000 feet elevation. The hike is brilliant at all times of year. Spring's soft grass, summer's wildflowers, fall's foliage, and winter's snow make an everchanging landscape that should be seen in every season.

The Highlands are undoubtedly a highlight of the journey for distance hikers, but you don't have to take on any more of the Appalachian Trail than this to enjoy the same views. You can drive to Carver's Gap to hop right on the Roan section, which is a moderate out and back of any distance you want to go. Grassy Bald is a sub-summit that branches off from the main ridgeline, but it rises taller than all immediately surrounding terrain. To the top of it is approximately 5 miles round trip, though you can turn around earlier if you've had your fill.

From the parking area, the trail almost immediately enters a shadowy glade of squat balsam firs, but it soon re-emerges to big vistas over grassy slopes. The first 360-degree view comes on top of Round Bald, which is only a half mile from the trailhead. Some may choose to turn around here, but the scenery remains spectacular for as far as you care to hike. Among wildflowers, azalea, mountian laurel, and wild blueberry, the trail meanders along the rolling mountaintop to Jane Bald. This is a decision point for those unsure how far they want to go.

Beyond Jane Bald the trail makes another short descent before a long and steep climb, but the top of that is Grassy Ridge Bald. A bit before the summit is an intersection where the Appalachian Trail continues eastward across more of the highlands, and the Grassy Ridge Trail takes a spur to the south. This spur gets far less traffic than the main trail, so a expect a narrower and brushier path. At one point it enters a rhododendron tunnel so tight that tall people must duck to get through. After navigating some more trees and thickets, the trail pops back out in a brilliant mountain meadow flecked with fir trees. This is Grassy Ridge Bald. Here there are more boulders, rhododendron gardens, and balsam groves to explore, and views to soak in.

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