Hike the Cloudland Trail at Roan Mountain to two overlooks at Roan High Bluff, catching stunning summit views and trailing through a lush, high-elevation forest.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 783 Trails Illustrated Map
Rising high along the North Carolina / Tennessee border, the rocky knobs and rolling balds of Roan Mountain span a staggering mix of landscape diversity. From sun-drenched mountain balds clad in golden grasses, to fragrant, moss and fir-covered rocky inclines, Roan’s beauty is abundant, disparate and unique. Roan High Bluff is a rugged, craggy mountain in the Roan chain, rising over 6,000 feet elevation and clad in lush forest filled with fern, moss and fir. A contrast to the sun-drenched, wildflower-covered hike through the Roan Highlands on the Appalachian Trail to the east, Roan High Knob is distinctly different, shady and lush.
This hike on the Cloudland Trail explores a rocky, mossy forest on Roan High Bluff, rolling along a sharp ridge line. The hike departs from the site of the former Cloudland Hotel near Roan High Knob, catching stunning, soaring, far-flung views from a pair of overlooks along the trail. With gently rolling elevation through a scenic, lush forest, the Cloudland Trail is one of Roan’s most popular, beginner-friendly hikes – and makes a great all-day adventure when paired with a hike to the rolling Roan Highlands to the east.
Cloudland Trail to Roan High Bluff: the hike
The hike departs from the lower Roan Mountain parking area near Carvers Gap (view maps and driving directions), hiking southwest from the picnic area. The trail dives into a forest of spruce-fir studded with blocky, lichen-crusted boulders and mossy, gray, weathered rock.
Scarcely .1 mile from the trailhead, a side trail veers to the right. The hike follows the side spur, the forest’s dense tree cover suddenly opening to broad, panoramic views from a stacked-stone overlook. Mushrooms and wildflowers thrive on the sun-dappled, rich forest floor.
Departing the overlook, the hike retraces back to the Cloudland Trail, continuing its southwest journey. The trail rolls elevation over a knob before dipping into a rhododendron-filled gap at .4 mile. The hike crosses a gravel road at .5 mile, and again at .7 mile, reaching an alternate, mid-point trailhead for the Cloudland Trail. Rising from the gravel road, the hike climbs elevation on a partially paved trail, beginning a nearly unrelenting ascent to the summit. Large boulders flank the trail, mottled in shades of vibrant green moss and silvery-gray lichen.
The trail summits Roan High Bluff at 1.2 miles, reaching a large wooden observation deck near the mountain’s crest. On a clear day, views from the summit stretch far and wide, framed in sharp summits, rolling mountaintops and vibrant green farmland below.
Departing the Roan High Bluff summit, the hike turns to retrace its outbound steps on the Cloudland Trail, reaching the trailhead at 2.4 miles and completing the adventure.
Note: the road to the trailhead is open seasonally, and closed in winter months. When the road is closed, access the Cloudland trailhead via the Appalachian Trail at Carver’s Gap, adding 4.5 roundtrip miles to this hike.
More Roan Mountain hiking adventures
A gravel trail climbs from the eastern parking area to the Appalachian Trail and the former site of the Cloudland Hotel, now a grassy meadow with limited views. Follow the trail to explore the hotel’s history, and follow the Appalachian Trail to the Roan High Knob Shelter, a historic log cabin that stands as the highest-elevation shelter on the AT. Climb the AT from Carvers Gap to Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald, catching breathtaking, nearly continuous views from three grassy mountain balds. Or explore Roan Mountain’s beauty on an 11-mile adventure, hiking the Appalachian Trail through the Roan Highlands to the Overmountain Shelter, a historic red barn at Yellow Mountain Gap.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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$3 per vehicle. The road to the trailhead is generally open from Memorial Day through September, and closes seasonally.
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