Trail Notes: Head in the clouds

Trail Team 11

The Place: Roan Mountain near the Rhododendron Gardens
The Hike: A shorter and cloudier return to Roan High Bluff via the Cloudland Trail

Nothing remains the same for long in our Roan highlands – especially the weather.

Mochi and I had planned to hike up to Round Bald for sunset on what was supposed to be a mostly sunny Saturday afternoon. However, the clouds decided to stick around, so we decided to drive up the Forest Service road to the site where the Cloudland Hotel once stood.

After poking around a bit, we decided to hike the 1 mile round-trip to the Roan High Bluff overlook. I’ve been there before, but the clouds added a whole new spook factor.

Last time I hiked to the overlook, I started at the Roan High Knob Trail parking lot to hike the entirety of the Cloudland Trail. This time, with the clouds and sundown quickly approaching, we parked at the back of the parking loop that’s there mostly for the Rhododendron Festival.

From the parking area, it’s roughly a half-mile out to the high bluff. Last time I was there, it was covered in wildflowers. This time, is was extremely muddy. Mochi and I found ourselves tip-toeing along the edge of the trail in spots or else end up ankle-deep in mud.

This trail is something else. Aside from the mud, there’s all these little deer trails to the left and right that attempt to entice you down them. Fallen trees, covered in moss, beg for you to take a rest. Bugs, bears, humans or weather have stripped away swathes of bark on some pine trees, leaving behind buttery smooth tree. There’s boulders to scramble up and broken asphalt to try not to trip over – a remnant of the paving done years ago.

Small birds dart back and forth. Sometimes, a larger one will seemingly hover a few feet above the ground, far enough away and quick enough to wonder if what you saw was bird or bear. On sunnier days, you might also see chipmunks and a wood mouse frolicking on the forest floor.

While the trail was a bit eerie this time around, the clouded-in scenic overlook was magical. Usually, you can see for miles and miles. This time, we could occasionally see a bit of sunlight peep through but otherwise it was the platform and the closest pines.

As always, the hike back to the car was not nearly as long as the hike to the overlook. As we slowly made our way back down the mountain, Mochi and I spotted a couple of the local residents using the road. In the clouds, I almost didn’t see the group of three before we were right there by them.

All in all, a great way to end the hike.

(By the way, we didn’t end up making it to Round Bald thanks to both the clouds and the absurd number of people still making their way up the A.T. as dusk fell.)

Overall – an easy hike with some small boulders to wade through. It’s a must-do for your Roan Mountain hike. Heads up though – the U.S. Forest Service will block the road up to the parking areas when the cold really sets in.

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