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Backpacker Magazine – June 2013

Grand Traverses: Roan Highlands

Gorge on views that don't quit on a high stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

by: Brendan Leonard

Blueberries ripen on Roan Mountain in August (Kennan Harvey)
Blueberries ripen on Roan Mountain in August (Kennan Harvey)

Distance 40.4 miles
Gain 12,597 feet
Difficulty 6

Why it’s grand The Roan Highlands’ massif is almost 20 miles long, and the AT rides most of its crest, straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border for miles of open ridge views. Bragging rights: You’ll hike over the longest chain of grassy balds in the world (7 miles), and spend a night in the AT’s highest shelter, 6,285-foot Roan High Knob.

Do it Plan on four or five days for this quad-buster, starting at the Chestoa Bridge just south of Erwin, Tennessee. Hike up to, across, then back down from the massif to finish at the AT’s intersection with US 19, east of the town of Roan Mountain. You’ll pass plenty of excellent campsites (good bet: anything near Beauty Spot at mile 9) amid the rolling, grassy balds, plus seven shelters along the trail. Make sure you spend a night at the Overmountain Shelter (mile 33)—many hikers claim the view into the Roaring Creek Valley to the south is the best on the AT.

According to a Catawba legend, the crimson of the Roan Mountain rhododendron garden—the largest in the world—is the result of a great battle with the Cherokee.

Contact (828) 877-3265;

Maps Appalachian Trail Official Map Tennessee-North Carolina Maps 1 & 2, ($12;

May to October; rhododendron blooms peak in late June.

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