Hike to Roan High Knob on the Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap, climbing through a mossy, fir-filled forest to beautiful Roan Mountain views.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 783 Trails Illustrated Map
Roan Mountain is one of those places that’s so exceptionally beautiful, and so extraordinarily expansive, it’s hard to capture in photos. Sprawling over five mountain summits, Roan Mountain’s landscapes are diverse, from grassy, sun-drenched mountain balds to shady, lush, rocky peaks.
Dipping through Carvers Gap, the Appalachian Trail runs east to west, offering extremely different hikes in either direction. To the east, the AT summits the grassy, nearly tree-barren stretch of the Roan Highlands, a trio of balds that comprise the largest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s an exceptional, sun-drenched, view-packed hike, and easily one of our favorites in North Carolina.
This hike follows the AT west from Carvers Gap, ascending Roan High Knob through a lush, green, shady forest filled with balsam fir trees, fern, and moss. The hike passes the Roan High Knob shelter, the highest-elevation shelter on the entire Appalachian Trail. And, passing the summit, the hike veers off the AT to visit a high-elevation overlook, catching exceptional views near the former site of the historic Cloudland Hotel.
Carvers Gap to Roan High Knob: the hike
The adventure departs from the Roan Mountain trailhead at Carvers Gap (view maps and driving directions), hiking the Appalachian Trailhead northwest from the gap. The hike follows the AT’s iconic, white rectangular trail blazes, crossing several small wood bridges over trickling streams before veering sharply south. The climb to the Roan High Knob summit begins, a nearly unrelenting climb from the trailhead.
The hike crosses a wooden bridge at .25 mile, diving through a dense forest of balsam fir. Lush moss carpets the rich forest floor, covering the rocky, rooty landscape.
The climb intensifies as the AT courses through six sharp switchbacks. Through-the-trees views expand on the trail;s left as the hike nears the summit. The hike peaks elevation, passing a side trail at 1.4 miles leading to the Roan High Knob Shelter, a small log cabin that holds the distinction of being the highest-elevation shelter on the Appalachian Trail.
The hike begins a gradual descent, passing a grouping of large, angular rock outcrops at 1.7 miles. Lichen, fern and vibrant green moss thrive in this sun-dappled, often foggy, high elevation forest.
The AT dives through Toll House Gap before beginning a second, shallow climb. The trail meanders through a rocky, root-filled landscape, passing the remains of an old stone chimney at 1.9 miles.
The trail skirts the former location of the historic Cloudland Hotel, a popular Roan Mountain destination in the late 19th century. At 2 miles, this route hangs a hard left, departing the Appalachian Trail to hike southwest through the Cloudland Hotel parking area. At the far end of the parking area, the hike dives back into a shady, mossy, fir-filled forest on the Cloudland Trail. At 2.25 miles, the hike turns right, following a short spur trail to catch views from a stone-walled overlook.
Departing the overlook, this hike flips in reverse, following the Roan High Bluff Trail eastbound. (Alternately, continue following the Cloudland Trail to Roan High Bluff, catching another view-packed summit view from a rocky overlook and adding just over two miles to the hike.) After passing through the parking area and the Cloudland Hotel, the hike turns right on the Appalachian Trail, descending through the lush forest surrounding Roan High Knob. The adventure reaches the Carvers Gap trailhead at 4.5 miles, completing the hike.
More Roan Mountain hiking adventures
Up for some more mileage (and some beautiful landscape diversity)? Hike the AT east from Carvers Gap east to Grassy Ridge Bald, and then this hike west to Roan High Knob, for a 9-mile AT adventure that’s simply unforgettable.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free parking is available at the trailhead.
36.106871, -82.110429 // N36 06.406 W82 06.638