CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Just 30 minutes outside of Johnson City sits Roan Mountain with more than 2,000 acres of forest. in these 2,000 acres sits what is said to be one of the most beautiful spots on the 2,200 miles long Appalachian Trail.
The spot can be found by starting at the Roan Mountain State Park Visitors Center and driving about eight miles up Tennessee State Route 143 to Carvers Gap in the Pisgah/Cherokee National Forest. From there, hikers only have about a half-mile to walk before reaching incredible views.
Along the way though, there are plenty of things to see. One of the most popular being the rhododendrons which hikers can see before they even step foot on the trail. These massive, evergreen bushes produce beautiful flowers that the mountain is known for.
In lower elevations, the rhododendrons produce white flowers. On Roan Mountain, the rhododendrons produce red and pink flowers. Roan Mountain State Park Manager Meg Guy says there is an interesting Indian legend that explains why this difference exists. She says a Native American legend details two tribes meeting at the top of the mountain to battle and show their might to the Great Spirit. According to legend, the battle raged on for three days and it was so bloody and violent that it killed off all the trees making the mountain bald. It also turned the rhododendrons on the top of the mountain red.
While it makes for a good story, it’s not entirely accurate. Meg says that, while no one is 100% certain as to why the balds exist, there are some good hypotheses. The prevailing theory is that years ago, these areas used to be prime grazing spots for megaherbivores like bison, elk, and deer. Also, prior to the land becoming public use, the top of the mountain was a prime spot for settlers looking for grazing pastures with the cooler temperatures and fewer biting bugs.
While hikers make their way to the top of the mountain, they will pass through a spruce-fir forest. The primary trees are Red Spruces and Fraser Firs. Normally, one would find a forest like this in the northern part of the country and Canada, but thanks to the higher elevation, we’re able to experience this type of forest in East Tennessee.
After passing through the forest, it’s only a short walk up to Round Bald. At 5,826 feet, it is the third peak on Roan Mountain and the first bald.
Check out another hike on Roan Moutain, with Trail Notes: A.T. from Carvers Gap to Overmountain Shelter.