Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain: winter hike from Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge Bald

Roan Mountain: winter hike on the Appalachian Trail

Stunning year-round, the Roan Highlands are exceptionally beautiful during a Winter sunrise. Hike the Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap to Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge for nearly continuous, exceptional wintertime views.

trail info

4.7 miles
(round trip)
moderate
Dog-
friendly

LOCATION:on the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain (maps & directions)

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack w/ our favorite hiking gear list and Canon 6D Camera

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 783 Trails Illustrated Map

There’s just nothing like chasing an epic sunrise on the Appalachian Trail, especially in winter. Western North Carolina’s sunrises and sunsets are simply beautiful, casting light over the rolling, mountainous landscape and bathing everything in a golden glow under a brilliantly-colored sky. As many sunrises as we’ve caught, they’re always uniquely beautiful, and always entirely worthy of the groggy, pre-dawn drive to the trailhead.

Hike the Appalachian Trail to gorgeous, snowy sunrise views at Jane Bald in the Roan HighlandsAbove: hike the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain to epic, chilly wintertime sunrises

This wintertime hike on the Appalachian Trail explores the Roan Highlands at Roan Mountain, a rolling, grassy series of mountain balds that offer nearly unlimited, spectacular, 360-degree views for miles along the AT. And while it’s a wonderful hike (and one of our all-time WNC faves) in any season, it’s especially beautiful at a winter sunrise, when Roan’s snowy mountain balds seem to make an already-perfect sunrise even more beautiful.

Roan Mountain on the Appalachian Trail: the winter hike

Pre-dawn breezes blow briskly through the trailhead at Carvers Gap (view maps and driving directions), a paved AT access near the North Carolina / Tennessee Border. Early morning light begins to fill the sky, signaling that the time is near. A golden hue casts on Roan Mountain’s balds, contrasting with the icy, blue-hued, snow-covered landscape. Gearing up, we depart the trailhead, hiking eastbound on the Appalachian Trail and climbing, quickly, chasing the sunrise.

The hike begins a steady, meandering climb of Round Bald, the first of three mountain balds on this adventure. The Appalachian Trail carves through a thicket of rhododendron, their leathery leaves coated in snow and ice. The trail enters a balsam stand, the fresh scent of evergreen blowing fragrantly in the snowy breeze. Early morning light streams through the trees, reflecting across snowflakes like tiny airborne prisms.

Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain: snow catches early morning sunlight in a balsam stand

The hike exits the balsam forest at .25 mile, arcing through switchbacks in a final ascent of Round Bald. From the summit, sweeping views stretch in every direction just as the sun begins to crest over the nearby Grassy Ridge to the east, this hike’s final destination. The AT switches back, descending Round Bald eastbound to a saddle at Engine Gap, enjoying view after breathtaking view across the ice and snow-crusted landscape.

Hike the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain to gorgeous winter sunrises near the NC / TN state border

The hike reaches the gap at 1 mile, leveling briefly before beginning a climb. The AT ascends through a rocky landscape, passing several broad slab rock outcrops. The trail reaches the Jane Bald summit at 1.3 miles, catching beautiful dawn views of Grassy Ridge to the east and Round Bald to the west.

Hike the Appalachian Trail through the Roan Highlands in winter, hiking from Carvers Gap to Grassy Round Bald, Jane Bald and Ridge Bald

The hike continues following the Appalachian Trail eastbound, the sun hanging low on the eastern horizon. The trail descends Jane Bald, reaching a saddle at 1.5 miles. The hike begins a final, steady climb of Grassy Ridge, reaching a trail junction at 1.8 miles. From here, the AT veers northeast, traveling to the Overmountain Appalachian Trail Shelter. This route turns to the right, following a short spur trail to the Grassy Ridge Mountain summit. The hike ducks through a dense tunnel of snow-covered rhododendron, their gnarly branches bending low over the trail under the weight of ice and snow. The trail exits the dense rhododendron at just over 2.1 miles, with exceptional views expanding as the trail gains its final elevation.

Hike the Appalachian Trail in winter to epic views on the snow-covered Roan Highlands at Roan Mountain

The hike reaches the Grassy Ridge summit at 2.35 miles, cresting elevation at a group of angular rock outcrops. The wind-blown summit landscape offers outstanding views in every direction. Rime ice and snow cling to the grasses and windswept trees, glowing golden in the early dawn light.

Winter hiking on the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain: snow and ice crust the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald in the Roan Highlands

Departing Grassy Ridge, the hike retraces its outbound trek to the trailhead, following the spur trail to reach the Appalachian Trail at 2.9 miles, and following the white-blazed AT westbound, rolling elevation over Jane Bald and Round Bald. The hike reaches the Carvers Gap trailhead at 4.7 miles, completing the hike. Hikers swarm the trailhead, departing on their own early-morning Roan Mountain adventure. But that gorgeous, first-light color show is fleeting, and we enjoyed the serenity of having it all to ourselves.

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Appalachian Trail: Roan Mountain Winter Hike Map, Directions & Details

Appalachian Trail: Roan Mountain Winter Hike Map
Appalachian Trail: Roan Mountain Winter Hike Map
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.

Driving Directions


Parking

Free parking is available at the trailhead.

GPS Coordinates

36.106807, -82.110331     //     N36 06.385 W82 06.616

Elevation Profile

Roan Mountain winter hike: Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge Elevation Profile
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Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.
 
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