Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 51(2)] This trail is popular with hikers because of its thick forests, historical settings, thickets, and beautiful vistas. Famous for the Cloudland Rhododendron Gardens and unusual growth of Scotch heather, this part of the AT is heavily hiked in the last two weeks of June when these plants are in bloom. The rock from Carvers Gap to Roan High Knob is reported to be the oldest rock of the Appalachian Trail at 1.8 billion years old. This light-colored rock is composed of coarse-grained gneiss with feldspar.
From the parking area at Carvers Gap, follow the AT south. The trail follows the paved Cloudland Rhododendron Garden Road for awhile, and then curves out into the forest. At mile .25, the trail connects with an old road. Follow the road along switchbacks to its junction with a blue-blazed trail at mile 1.3. Here, a side trail goes left .1 mile to the summit of Roan High Knob. Continue past the picnic area and at the fork, turn left, crossing over an old trail. At the 1.9 mile mark, there is an old cabin site. Turn left, enter the woods, and begin climbing. A grassy area follows, and a small parking lot should be visible ahead. Beyond the parking lot are the Cloudland Rhododendron Gardens which bloom in middle to late summer. Return to the parking area at Carvers Gap by backtracking and taking the AT north (see Roan Mountain, page 75).
[Fig. 51(1)] Big Bald is a great example of a southern Appalachian bald mountain. At 5,516 feet, the summit offers brilliant 360-degree views of the Black, Great Smoky, Nantahala, and Unaka mountains, including an excellent view of Mount Mitchell only 20 miles away. Along this stretch of the AT, the rock dates back more than 1 billion years. Big Bald has also been used as a site for raising and successfully releasing peregrine falcon fledglings.
Follow the AT northeast from the dirt road at Street Gap. Look for the trail to run to the right, forking from the road. The trail will pass three junctions with blue-blazed trails. (Blue blazes along the AT indicate spurs that lead to water, views, or shelters and often, though not necessarily, reconnect with the trail farther along.) The last .5 mile is through open meadows to the summit of Big Bald. Continue through an open meadow to a climb up Big Bald. To return, backtrack south on the AT.
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