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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