Roan Mountain Rhododendrons as seen from the well placed deck in the midst of the famous “Gardens”
It is mid June now and doing what has become an annual tradition, we are off to Roan Mountain to view the Rhododendron Gardens at their peak. Roan Mountain is beautiful any time of year, but there is something extra special in June, a color show that can only be rivaled by the brightest colors in fall. The two best places to see this vibrant color show, are on either side of Carver’s gap. Carvers gap is a pass that sits right on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. The mountains rise to over 6000 feet on either side, and the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway at this spot. One side follows the Appalachian Trail, up and along the balds. This in my opinion is where the color show is at its finest. The normal hike is to Grassy Ridge and back which takes you up and over Round Bald and Jane Bald before reaching Grassy Ridge. Here, the trees are sparse, the grass is roughly ankle to knee high blowing in the breezes. The rest of the area is covered by blooming Rhododendrons, Flame Azaleas, and fields of smaller yellow flowers. Combine this with awesome mountain views of NC on one side and Tn on the other, along with very good views of Mount Mitchell, Table Rock, Hawksbill, and Grandfather Mountain from Grassy Ridge, you have the makings of a memorable 5 mile hike. Just be prepared for several up and downs, strong winds, much cooler temps than the valley and frequent fog.
From Carver’s Gap, the other direction leads up to the Rhododendron Gardens, the site of the historic Cloudland Hotel that used to sit in both states, and one of my favorite places on planet earth, Roan High Bluff. This bluff at over 6000 feet is not a part of the Rhododendron color show, but the view from the perfectly placed and well built platform is absolutely second to none. It is a must see if nothing else. The Gardens are what the fuss is all about for most people. Here the accessibility is much better for all people, restrooms are provided, along with a very well layed out paved path winding through one of the largest, most colorful thicket of Rhododendron anywhere. There is an overlook with a beautiful large deck that oversees many, many Rhododendrons with Table Rock & Hawksbill to the left, and a grand view of Mount Mitchell on the right. This area tends to be more crowded , as it should be, so come here with your imagination, camera equipment, and your patience! At the peak of Roan Mountain at over 6200 feet, the Appalachian trail crosses right over it and also shows the remains of the old Cloudland Hotel that was prominent around the turn of 1900. This hotel sat on the state line and old stories say that a sheriff used to sit in the NC side where drinking was illegal, and wait for people on the Tennessee side that were drinking to cross the room into the NC side and arrest them. That must have been crazy. Now all that is left is part of the original foundation. I will let the photos do the rest of the talking for this blog entry. Hope you enjoy!