2015 didn’t result in a big backpacking trip like I wanted, so I tried to find something substantial given the schedule I had available. That can be a challenge living in Ohio, but I realized I can reach the Roan Highlands portion of the Appalachian Trail with a seven hour drive from Columbus. Given the scenic reputation of the area, I was pretty excited to tackle this portion of the AT.
If you are not familiar with the Roan Highlands (commonly refered to as Roan Mountain), it is a 10-15 mile portion of the AT along the northern end of the border between Tennessee/North Carolina. The Roan Highlands span several peaks, reaching over 6,000′, and have a large area of “balds”, providing fantastic vistas over the surrounding area. It is well known to have some of the best views in the southern portion of the AT. My target was a long stretch of the AT that encompassed these balds.
I hiked a four-day, 40 mile, one way route northbound from Indian Grave Gap to US-19E. In order to make it a one-way trek, I stowed my car at the Mountain Harbor Bed & Breakfast and utilized their shuttle service to Indian Grave Gap (~ 50 minute ride). Since the AT crosses US-19E a quarter mile East of Mountain Harbor, the return trip to the car was painless. I drove down the day before and stayed in Johnson City so I could get on the trail early.
A minor snafu was that a huge storm came through the area the first two days of my originally planned five-day, 50 mile hike starting at Nolichucky River. I was flexible enough to push the trip off two days and shorten it a day. It is a good thing I did, for I heard from the shuttle driver that there were very dangerous conditions in the mountains and several backpackers were evacuated. It did make for very wet conditions the first day of hiking.
Overall, the hike was very, very nice with plenty of challenge and experiences. The weather held out rain-wise, however there was an overcast for much of the hike which affected the views, a bit (but still very worthwhile). Something that continually surprised me is the wonder of hiking in the forest and observing the various types of nature you come across when you pay attention.
I highly recommend this section of the AT, and think it would be spectacular in May/June with the Rhodedendrum’s blooming or October for the leaves. Given the time of year I went (mid-week in July), it was fairly uncrowded, with the Northbound AT thruhikers long gone, and the Southbounders still a couple months away.