Roan Mountain: hiking the Appalachian Trail to Grassy Ridge Bald
Hike the Appalachian Trail over the rolling Roan Highlands, hiking from Carvers Gap to grassy, wildflower-covered fields and exceptional 360-degree summit views at Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald.
The Roan Highlands are the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains, spanning nearly 1000 acres of blissful, sun-drenched, grassy mountaintop. The views from Roan’s rolling, mostly-bald mountains are fantastic, stretching in wide, 360-degree panoramas. Sunrises and sunsets are epic from its grassy ridgeline: the sky is abundantly wide, and the surrounding mountains reflect the sun’s colorful, golden light. It’s a great day hike, backpacking adventure, camping trip, or picnic spot with exceptional views.
This hike from Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge Bald is one of our all-time favorites on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. Rolling elevation over three mountain balds, the trail catches ample sunlight, endless views and near-constant breezes. Golden grasses and abundant wildflowers stretch far and wide. Sparse, wind-blown trees cling to rolling ridgeline. It’s one of those amazing hikes that starts with incredible views from the trailhead, and the views just keep getting better throughout the hike. And the hike’s final destination, Grassy Ridge, is a sun-drenched, grassy summit that tops out at over 6100 feet, offering extraordinary views and some great near-summit campsites.
Roan Mountain is a fantastic four-season hiking destination. While we’re huge fans of Roan’s wildflower-filled summers and vibrant leaf color in autumn, Roan Mountain is equally adventure-worthy for a frosty sunrise winter hike, too.
We’ve developed a bit of an addiction to Roan Mountain’s beauty, and we bet you will, too. Hike it in winter, spring, summer and fall. Hike it at sunrise, mid-day and sunset. And hike it again and again: this stretch of the Appalachian Trail seems to get even better every time.
Roan Mountain on the Appalachian Trail: the hike
The hike begins at the Roan Mountain trailhead at Carvers Gap (view maps and driving directions), crossing the paved highway to hike the AT eastbound into the rolling grasslands of the Roan Highlands. The AT arcs to the north, following a well-maintained gravel trail and climbing elevation through rhododendron. The hike enters a shady, dense grove of balsam fir, the air scented with the sweet scent of evergreen, moss and earth.
The trail meanders through the fir forest, continuing its steady elevation climb. The hike exits the forest canopy at .3 mile, entering the grassy landscape of Round Bald. The Appalachian Trail crests Round Bald at .6 mile, catching exceptional views across the mountain’s golden grasses and colorful wildflowers.
And while the views from Round Bald are stunning, they only get better, as the trail continues eastbound and descends into Engine Gap. Wild blueberry bushes cover the gap in warm-weather months, prolific in the abundant sunshine. Sparse clumps of trees pepper the summits and gaps in the Roan Highlands, but the views from the trail are otherwise open and plentiful.
The trail begins a second climb, trekking through a rocky landscape before reaching the Jane Bald summit. Large, slab rock outcrops near the summit offer exceptional views, and a great place to soak up some sun. Grassy Ridge Bald lies to the east, rising dramatically in the near distance.
The AT descends into a gap, rolling elevation through the saddle before beginning a long, extended climb to the Grassy Ridge summit. The trail climbs over 400 feet from the gap to the summit, the longest and steepest climb on this adventure. The trail reaches an intersection at 1.8 miles; from here, the Appalachian Trail hikes from the Roan Highlands to the Overmountain Shelter, a historic red barn, at Yellow Mountain Gap. This hike veers southeast on a side spur to summit Grassy Ridge. The trail narrows, navigating through head-high brush and diving through a tunnel of dense rhododendron. Nearing the summit, the trail breaks into the open sunshine at 2.15 miles. Expansive views unfold in every direction.
At the summit, several large, angular rock outcrops host a plaque that’s dedicated Cornelious Rex Peake. Grandfather Mountain sits prominently on the horizon to the east, and Mount Mitchell can be seen to the south. The views are plentiful and simply beautiful.
After soaking up the sublime views, this hike departs the bald, hiking the outbound route on the Grassy Ridge spur and the Appalachian Trail in reverse. The views are equally exceptional on the return hike as the AT rolls over Jane Bald and Round Bald. The hike reaches the Carvers Gap trailhead at 4.7 miles, completing this view-packed Roan Mountain adventure.
More Roan Mountain hiking adventures
Up for some more mileage? Hiking west from Carvers Gap, the Appalachian Trail climbs to Roan High Knob, trailing through a mossy, fern-filled forest under the canopy of sweet-scented balsam fir. It’s a 4.5 mile round trip, and highly worthwhile: the landscape is lush and shady, a complete contrast to the eastbound hike through the Highlands. Or, from the spur trail at Grassy Ridge Bald, continue following the Appalachian Trail eastbound, descending from the Roan Highlands to beautiful views at the Overmountain Shelter, a historic red barn, at Yellow Mountain Gap.