Roan Highlands: Appalachian Trail to the Overmountain Shelter
Hike the Appalachian Trail to stunning views in the Roan Highlands, rolling from Carvers Gap to the Overmountain Shelter, a historic red barn at Yellow Mountain Gap, on this 11 mile adventure.
This hike explores a 5.5 mile, ultra-scenic stretch of the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain, following the AT over Round Bald and Jane Bald, and making an optional trek to the Grassy Ridge Bald summit. Leaving the Highlands, the AT dives through a dense, lush hardwood forest to the Low Gap AT shelter. Skirting the NC / TN state line, the trail climbs Yellow Mountain and then dips into Yellow Mountain Gap, where the hike follows a blue-blazed side trail to the Overmountain Shelter, one of the most unique (and largest) shelters on the AT.
With abundant views and widely varied terrain, this is one amazing hike through some of the most scenic sections of western NC, and one of our all-time favorites on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina.
Roan Highlands to Yellow Mountain Gap: the hike
The hike departs from the AT trailhead at Carvers Gap (view maps and driving directions), crossing the paved highway to hike the AT eastbound. The hike follows the iconic, white rectangular trail blazes of the AT, carving through switchbacks, diving through dense thickets of rhododendron and then ducking under a dense canopy of fragrant balsam fir. Exiting the shady forest, the hike catches bountiful sunlight as the trail enters the Round Bald grasslands. The hikes’s views become increasingly more panoramic and beautiful as the trail climbs elevation.
The AT summits Round Bald at .6 mile, catching generous views from the windblown summit.
After rolling over Round Bald, the hike continues following the AT eastbound, dipping elevation through a shallow gap before climbing to the rocky Jane Bald summit. Just before cresting at 2.2 miles, the hike catches beautiful westerly views from a wide, slab rock outcrop. From the Jane Bald summit, views extend in gorgeous panoramas, with the nearby Grassy Ridge Bald towering on the eastern horizon.
Descending from Jane Bald, the AT catches view after stunning view as it dips through another gap, trailing through dense thickets of wild blueberries and wind-blown wildflowers. The hike climbs elevation, reaching a trail intersection at 1.8 miles. At the intersection, this hike veers left, continuing to follow the AT’s signature white blazes and descending from the mid-elevations of Grassy Ridge. (Alternately, veer right to climb a half mile to the view-packed Grassy Ridge Bald summit, catching beautiful 360-degrees of the Roan Highlands, and distant views of Grandfather Mountain on the horizon.)
Descending steadily, the AT dives through a lush, low-canopy forest filled with fern and wildflowers, a shady respite and contrast from the sunny, open balds on the Highlands. The hike crosses several small, seasonal creeks, descending steadily as the trail carves through a series of sharp switchbacks and passes a shallow cave. The trail runs through a shady, young hardwood forest, passing a large campsite and summiting Yellow Mountain at 2.8 miles.
Descending Yellow Mountain, the trail carves through another series of sharp switchbacks, passing a campsite at 3.1 miles. The hike descends through Deep Gap, passing the small, rustic Deep Gap AT shelter at 3.3 miles.
The Appalachian Trail veers through a wide arc, catching beautiful views of the nearby Grassy Ridge Bald from a wildflower-filled clearing. From here, the trail begins a steady, nearly unrelenting descent to Yellow Mountain Gap, trailing through a young, gnarly-branched forest carpeted in lush, green brush.
The hike rolls elevation through a forest filled with enormous, tall fern and large rock outcrops. Reaching Yellow Mountain Gap at 5.2 miles, the hike hangs a right on a blue-blazed side trail, descending through a wide clearing filled with vibrant wildflowers. Keeping right at forks on the trail, reaches a gravel road, turning right. The forest canopy clears, reaching a wide, grassy, level meadow and catching views of the red-clad Overmountain Shelter at the end of the clearing.
Views from the two-story barn stretch to the rolling grasslands on Little Hump Mountain to the east, and southbound into the Roaring Creek Valley. Renovated in 1983, the historic barn offers picnic table seating, a generously-sized fire pit, and ample room in its second story for AT thru-hikers making the epic, 2000+ mile journey from Georgia’s Springer Mountain to Katahdin in Maine.
Departing the Overmountain Shelter, this 11-mile adventure returns to Yellow Mountain Gap, turning left to retrace its outbound steps on the Appalachian Trail. From the barn, it’s a steady climb to the Grassy Ridge Bald spur trail, gaining more than 1200 feet of elevation over the next 3.6 miles. Reaching the Grassy Ridge spur at just over 9 miles, the hike rolls elevation through the sun-drenched Roan Highlands, soaking in the abundant views from Jane Bald and Round Bald. The hike reaches Carvers Gap at just under 11 miles, completing the hike.
More Roan Mountain hiking adventures
Westward from the trailhead at Carvers Gap, the Appalachian Trail ascends Roan High Knob, hiking through a lush forest of fragrant spruce fir, fern and moss and visiting the historic Roan High Knob Shelter, the highest-elevation shelter on the AT.