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Grassy Ridge

Posted by on July 9, 2011

Sunrise from Jane Bald

Grassy Ridge is a prominent peak in the Roan Highlands sitting at 6180 feet in elevation.  This expansive Southern Appalachian Bald offers 360 degree, unobstructed views, which are undoubtedly some of the best in the eastern U.S.  This is also the highpoint of Avery County, NC.

I left the house very early in the morning and arrived at Carver’s Gap around 5:00 a.m.  I hiked by headlamp for the first mile, crossing the summits of Round Bald and Jane Bald, where I stopped to set up my photography equipment.  This happens to be my favorite spot for capturing sunrises in the east, and this morning’s sunrise did not disappoint me…

Moments Before Sunrise

Sun Rising Over Big Hump Mountain

After enjoying the awesome sunrise I continued north on the Appalachian Trail, descending down into the final gap before my climb up to Grassy Ridge.  It was near this gap where I ran into the beautiful Angora Goats grazing on the mountainside.  The goats are placed here to help control invasive woody plants (such as Canadian Blackberry) that are beginning to overtake the balds.  Basically, the balds are dying due to climate change, soil changes, and the lack of large grazing herbivores.  If not for these goats, and for the perennial work of many volunteers, these grassy balds would eventually be overcome by woody plant species.  This would eliminate not only the wonderful vistas enjoyed by hikers, but more importantly the very rare and fragile ecosystems and plant life found on these grassy balds.

Checking Out the Awesome Angora Goats

Grazing Angora Goats

My Friend #410

I said goodbye to the the goats and continued on up the trail until I reached the junction of the A.T. and the Grassy Ridge Trail  (there is a sign here now where you take a right).  I think this trail was blue-blazed at one time, but I didn’t notice any blazes on this trip.  However, the trail is well defined and is highly traveled so you can’t miss it.  It is a little tight in some spots though as you are working your way through thick Rhododendrons.  After a 500 feet climb in elevation I reached the summit, where there is a plaque dedicated to the memory of Cornelious Rex Peake.

On the Summit of Grassy Ridge Bald

Amazing Views into North Carolina from Grassy Ridge

When I arrived at the summit it was completely covered in fog, limiting my views.  But the weather can change very quickly on this peak, and soon the fog left giving me breathtaking panoramic views.  I hiked on out to the end of the ridge-line, taking photos and stopping for breakfast.

My timing was also good as the mountaintop was covered in the rare and endangered “Gray’s Lily”, which I thoroughly enjoyed photographing.  As I mentioned earlier, the balds have many species of rare plants, and this is one of them.   Gray’s Lilies are ONLY found in this local region of the Appalachians… on high elevation, grass covered mountains.

Very Rare and Endangered "Gray's Lily"

Lone Gray's Lily

Almost Ready to Bloom

If you are interested in helping to maintain these wonderful grass covered balds, along with preserving endangered plants and fragile ecosystems then there are numerous ways to help:

Click here for information on “adopting” a goat.   There are lots of different adoption options .  And if you want to physically help with these animals on site, then there are options for that too such as helping to carry water to the goats, or being a weekend (or longer) “goat sitter”… camping next to the site and keeping an eye out on the goats.  You can also volunteer your time in many workdays throughout the year by helping to cut back woody plants.  And, the annual Grassy Ridge mow-off is next weekend (July 15-17th).  If you interested in volunteering for something like this (or other workdays), then email me, and I will give you further contact information.

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Overall
Recommendation:

Great sunrise hike with amazing panoramic vistas.

Outstanding
Features:

Southern Appalachian Balds, Appalachian Trail, Masses of Catawba Rhododenron, very rare Gray’s Lilies, Angora Goats.

Difficulty:
Intermediate.

Driving:
Take Route 19E to the town of Roan Mountain, TN, then turn onto Route 143 toward the Roan Mountain State Park. Proceed 12.8 miles to the TN/NC state line. This is Carver’s Gap. There is a parking lot on your right.

Trails:
From the parking area, cross the road and immediately look for the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail. Follow these blazes heading north on the A.T. In 0.5 miles you will summit Round Bald.  In another 0.5 mile and you will summit Jane Bald.  Continue another 0.5 mile and you will come to the junction of the A.T and the Grassy Ridge Trail.  There is a sign here.  Take a right at this sign and continue climbing up the ridge.  There are no blazes here, but the trail is well defined.  In another 0.5 mile you will reach the summit of Grassy Ridge.  The benchmark and memorial plaque is on a rock outcropping to your right just as you crest the ridge.  Continue on down the ridge for more amazing vistas.  You can keep going down a saddle and then back up to another small peak until you come to the very end of the ridge.  I think it’s worth it to go all the way to the end of the ridge as views are awesome at that vantage point.

Needed
Gear & Tips:

Prepare for heavy winds and much cooler temperatures so bring extra clothing… maybe even a jacket in the summer months. Temperatures will be 10-15 degrees cooler than in the low lands.  Weather can change very quickly.

Distance:
5.0 miles round-trip.

Time
Allotment:

3-4 hours.

Type:
Out and back.

Vista
Rating (1-5):

5.0 – This is as good as it gets in the Southern Appalachians.

Waterfall
Rating (based on a 1-50 scale):

None

Water
Crossings (one way):

None.

Scrambling/Climbing:
None.

Hazards:
Weather can change dramatically on the grass-covered, exposed ridges. Check forecast for high winds or thunderstorms before attempting to summit this peak.

Maps/GPS
info:

none

More
Information:

none

6 Responses to Grassy Ridge

  1. Ben Trotter

    The cliffs at the end of Grassy Ridge are amazing. You looks like you are the world’s edge. I did a series of panning photos and stitched them together for a couple great panoramas.

  2. Ralph Westerkamp

    My wife and I are planning hiking the three balds in Sept. We are both 80yrs old. We hiked the White mountains in our early 70s ( Up Mt. Washington three times) Have not hiked for last five years but this hike seem “dooable” Would appreciate any suggestions or advise. thanks
    Ralph Westerkamp
    Englewood FL.

    • Bill Fuller

      Ralph,
      Yes… I think it’s doable. Nothing near as extreme as the Whites. There are campsite opportunities from Jane Bald to Grassy Ridge in case you decide to cut it short. The only issue is there is not much water until you get up to the “saddle” on Grassy Ridge, so you might want to carry some extra water. Have a great hike!
      Bill

  3. Rolfe Speirs

    Hi Bill,

    My name is Rolfe and I am interested in a snow hike on roan mountain (ie round bald, jane bald, and grassy ridge). My question to you is how difficult will it be to follow the trails in snow? If the trails are completely covered in snow, what recommendations do you have regarding finding your way on the trails?

    I’m also interested in hiking Roan Mountain when the Rhododendrons bloom. Are there azaleas on Roan Mountain during wildflower season too?

    Thanks,

    Rolfe

    • Bill Fuller

      Rolfe,
      The trails are marked with white blazes on posts and trees so you shouldn’t have any trouble. Yes… there are Flame Azaleas (bright orange) in bloom around the same time that Rhododendrons bloom. It’s a beautiful place.
      Bill

  4. Norma

    My husband and I are avid hikers who have hiked for many years all over the United States and in the Canadian Rockies, but guess where we retired? Right here in Johnson City, Tennessee – to be within easy access to the balds of the Roan Highlands. There is just no place on earth like it – even if I’d been everywhere on earth!!!! They are the mountains of your heart once they grab hold of you!!!! I have yet to go there and NOT tear up by how the beauty moves me.

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