If you want Roan Mountain basically to yourself- go early and in the rain. 

Roan Mountain Gardens 06 19 18-logo

I’ve now been to Roan Mountain three times, to the gardens and Jane’s Bald twice, Round Bald and Grassy Ridge once. We walked the Roan High Bluff at Cloudland Trail once too. It’s been devilishly hot, in the 90s here lately to do much outdoors. We worked in the yard on Saturday and I ended up dehydrated and exhausted with a splitting headache by dinner time. I wanted to go up in elevation enough it was cooler.

Roan Mtn Visiter Center 06 19 18-smWhen we got to Carvers Gap, elevation 5826 it was 61 degrees. Hiking along the balds was in the low 60’s. When we finished the balds I wanted to get one more look at the garden while we were close and already paid for access and it was 71 degrees I think around 2:30ish. After we got back down off the mountain and back to towns we found the heat again in the 90’s. So even though this hike wasn’t at all what I’d envisioned it was still nice to see and great to be outside and it cooler with a nice breeze plus we got in 6 miles or so.

If you are not familiar with the area the gardens have rhododendrons that peak sometime mid to late June. I’ve yet to see said peak.  This trip was the most I’ve seen blooming at I’d guess 30 to 50% blooming, as (again) I was just a few days off. I’d say by the end of this week (probably by the time I get this post up) they’d be at peak.


That trail is paved and easy but we actually had the platform to ourselves for most of that morning in the clouds. I finally took my knock-off acrylic lens ball with me to try my hand at photographing it magnifying the lens while I had a volunteer to hold it 🙂 I did pack my solar filter attached with tape to the inside of my lens hood to photograph the rolling clouds below me in midday sun but it wasn’t a day to use it.


The Roan Highland balds have a trail that follows the NC TN line along the AT and are the longest grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains. The trail normally offers 360-degree views but on this day we were set in the clouds and often by the time I got my camera out the view I wanted to capture was gone again. Our hike ended at Grassy Ridge Blad, elevation 6100 ft in the pouring rain with zero visibility.  We saw none of the extraordinary views I’ve read about. We did see beautiful wildflowers, blueberry bushes, rhododendrons including a rhododendron tunnel, and lots of native wild flame azaleas. We learned azaleas have some odd pod thing on them that is azalea leaf gall. We saw one plant that looked to me like it had a canna leaf but I saw no flowers. I saw some plant with what resembled micro green pineapples standing on the branches- if you know what it is I’d love to know.

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A note to the lady who told my hubby I was too close to the Gray Lily’s (Gray’s lily, Orange bell lily, Roan lily) roots. My knees resting in the tramped down grass before I got there were a good two feet from the closest flower to me AND we saw them growing later right along the trail. The sign said not to touch or pick – it didn’t say to keep a certain distance from them. If the trail needed policing it was for the people that littered or left their dog poo in the trail. The hummingbird didn’t even mind me there.


Okay off my soapbox and back on the trail. Although I left my monopod with the compass in the car, I read if you look to your right or east you see NC and to your left, or west TN. From Carvers Gap we went up the hill and I remembered that “uphill” is just not something I do well. I swear I could walk a lot longer if there wasn’t “up” involved. We reached the balsam fir grove and came out on Round Bald. This first bald is the one we’ve been to before but I swear the rocks I have a photo of my husband sitting on the last time were much larger. We continued across it, down into I think it’s called Engine Gap. and back up to Jane Bald where we sat on a large rock and had lunch. Coming down from Round Bald we had a few glimpses of the top of Grassy Ridge before we started the 400-foot climb to the top. Nearing the top we left the AT where it would’ve led us to the historic red barn and took the spur trail to the top. We still couldn’t see as we were socked in the clouds. I took one photo of a Cornelious Rex Peake plaque and then I felt a few raindrops before the skies opened up. We looked for a place to get out of the rain but seeing none I got out my one wimpy miny umbrella and tried to keep my glasses and camera bag dry. I REALLY think all camera bags should be waterproof for crying out loud. I wish I’d packed the rain ponchos or the garbage bag to put over my bag or heck even the gallon size ziplock to put my camera in. I guess we were within a few feet of Grassy Bald sign.  The forecast earlier had said the rain chances went up after 3pm, we decided not to wait it out.  Apparently, if you can see the view from Grassy bald it is spectacular and you can see the ridge of Grandfather mountain and the even Mount Mitchell.


Roan Mountain Balds 06 19 18 13 44 07-smOn the slow going return along the now slick ground, I had some time to reflect that it was probably serendipitous that the 3 ladies I invited to go with me declined as I was tired and drenched. I am in terrible shape but I’m the youngest out of the four of us. With my shoulder, I made a conscious effort to occupy my right hand with holding the camera bag strap or the umbrella. I also tried to take the strain off by putting it in my pocket. My hips started hurting on the return making me wonder how in the world some people can do the entire AT in forty some days. I also thought about checking the Merrell website when I got home because I was just sure my Moab Mid hiking boots were supposed to be waterproof yet my feet were wet. I daydreamed about the day I could wear my photography backpack again. If I’d been able to wear my backpack I would’ve had my small reflector that I would’ve used on the Gray lilies.  One it’s narrow going thru the tight spots than my shoulder bag that you have to keep pulling in front or pushing behind you and two I can order waterproof fitted rain covers. I concluded putting 3-Day Straight in my hair and straitening it, burning my neck with the iron early that morning was pointless and it looked like I got a perm on the mountain. I had a big raindrop go right into my ear and had to wad up some tissue to make it quit hurting with the wind blowing like it was.  I startled what looked like a Junco at ankle height that I didn’t even see and was grateful it was a bird and not a poisonous snake. I gave up on using my rain-splattered glasses and can’t clearly see the ground less than 5 feet from my face without them. I thought about how I should go ahead and drink some water now that we were on the return trip and there’d be a bathroom at the end. Even though it was cooler and we were getting soaked I had sweated quite a bit and I didn’t want another dehydration headache. We did walk back out of the rain for the most part by the time we reached the start to the first, Round Bald and saw some blue sky even. It was still blackened skies and raining behind us and I was just hoping if I kept looking I’d see a rainbow.  I’ll be making some changes to what I carry when we might encounter a downpour.

Roan Mountain Balds 06 19 18 14 07 50-sm

I had spotty cell service but I was able to use the netcams and check on Tyler. So there is a saying about living in Western North Carolina that if you don’t like the weather just wait a day. I think I’m done trying to catch the rhododendron at full peak and it will be awhile before I hike the balds again. Since the three times I’ve been there have all been in June, I might hike the balds again in autumn and make it to the red barn. In the meantime, I’ve added these two books to my reading list. My mom used to work for Davis’ father and I just can’t comprehend making that kind of time hiking the 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, heck I can’t imagine hiking the whole thing at all. I read they are considering moving part of the trail near Reroute through the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge.

Jennifer Pharr Davis the woman who hiked the AT in record time.

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail   

Roan Mountain Gardens 06 19 18 09 58 22-smRoan Mountain Gardens 06 19 18 09 59 56-sm

I really do like almost everything about my camera but I preferred my old panorama where you took a shot, moved the camera aligning the edge up with the ghost, shot again and repeated much more than the new hold the clicker and panning. I have yet to take one with either my fz300 or fz1000 outside using the pano button that doesn’t have horrible banding. The striped one is from my fz1000. The non-banded one on the bottom is from my old Samsung s4 cell phone. My fz200 had a much better panoramic feature.

And here is the video ~ https://youtu.be/h5OPiN_KMUI

4 thoughts on “If you want Roan Mountain basically to yourself- go early and in the rain. 

  1. KiM Post author

    26 to exit 32 but then we turned left before we were supposed to and had to put it back in the phone. Came home a different windy way because I wanted hubby to be able to drive on The Rattlesnake since I liked it so much but we missed it. Directions are best to the Gristmill visitor center for a better bathroom than the one at Carvers Gap You’ll pass the VC on your left and it’s obvious when you have to search for a place to park that you’ve hit Carvers Gap unless you get there super early, but if you see the welcome to NC sign you just missed it. The gardens are to your right. The balds to your left as you approach.
    Put this in your map for directions Gristmill Visitor Center, TN-143, Roan Mountain, TN 37687 If you get to the top and are not in a rain cloud you’ll have to post some pics!


  2. CTHodges

    My WNC ancestors (great aunt Bessie, great uncle Fletch, etc) always said “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Maybe they were all just a bunch of pessimists! It may have been a cloudy day but you managed to get some really gorgeous pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. KiM Post author

      or optimist depending on how you look at it 🙂 It was cloudy and cool which felt great but I sure would’ve liked to see the view when we got to the top of the last bald and it started pouring. Maybe I’ll go back someday and of course, I’ll always have my camera in hand.

      Liked by 1 person


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