Not All Roads Lead to Roan

Friday, August 10, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Roan Mountain
Waking to a cool, clear morning, we packed up and headed for Roan Mountain, just across the border in Tennessee.  Only 22 miles away as the crow flies, the road distance was about 40 miles.  But, oh, what roads!

We left the cabin about 9:30, expecting to arrive, as the GPS suggested, in about an hour.  By 10:30, we had arrived in Banner Elk, about halfway to Roan.  The ride along the winding, twisty curves of NC-194 had left everyone except Ken nauseated and headachy.  After a brief stop to stretch our legs and regain our equilibrium, we pressed on toward Roan. Unfortunately, the road did not improve much, and it took us another hour and a half to reach the top of the mountain as Ken took pity on us and drove a bit more slowly on this second leg. 
At 6,285 ft., Roan Mountain is one of the highest peaks in the southern Appalachians.  The mountain is covered in a dense spruce fir forest and boasts the world's largest natural rhododendron garden, as well as the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian range.  The Appalachian Trail crosses most of Roan's crest and the backcountry shelter there is the highest on the AT.
Ken and Emma search for treasure atop Roan Mountain.
Arriving at the top of the mountain, the first order of business was to locate a letterbox that Ken had targeted.  The mountain top was obscured in clouds, but that didn't stop Emma and Ken from finding the letterbox near the location of the former Cloudland Hotel.  Built around 1884, the Cloudland was a three-story resort at the top of Roan Mountain, catering to the well-heeled ladies and gentlemen who could afford to stay there.  Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the hotel had to comply with the laws of both states with regard to alcohol consumption (Tennessee permitted drinking while North Carolina did not).
Cloudland Hotel site on Roan Mountain
To make things convenient for guests, a strip was painted on the floor through the middle of the dining room and down the length of the long banquet table to show diners where they could legally drink alcoholic beverages and where they could not.  Legend tells of a North Carolina sheriff who lingered around the hotel, eager to arrest anyone who stepped over the state line with their drink.
Cloudland Trail living up to its name
After a foggy picnic at the mountaintop, we decided to explore the 1.2 mile Cloudland Trail.  This trek through a dense spruce forest and thickets of Catawba rhododendrons led to Roan High Bluff Overlook, a wooden platform, perched at 6,267 feet.  On a clear day, the views of the rolling mountainscape from this spot must be spectacular.  In today's cloud cover, we could only imagine the scene.
Hazy view from Roan High Bluff overlook
As we left the mountaintop, we scoured our maps for a return route with fewer corkscrew turns since we had all just recovered from the trip up.  Though about 10 miles further, our trip along NC-105 helped us avoid wooziness and shortened the journey by 30 minutes.
Before returning to the cabin, we stopped off at Boone's Coyote Kitchen, purveyors of what they term "Southwest Caribbean Soul food” with plenty of vegetarian options prepared from fresh, organically grown ingredients.  The food was just as good as we remembered from last summer, if not better.  This is definitely a place we'll return to.
Back at Tasker Cabin, Emma and I took an adventure walk in the nearby area with the goal of investigating what had happened to an old red structure left over from last century when this acreage was an RV park.

Our investigation complete, we came back for a game of Pictionary before everyone worked a while on a jigsaw puzzle.  Then it was off to bed to rest up for our Tanawha Trail hike tomorrow.


  • Weather:  Hazy, foggy, clear, rain, 59° to 73°
  • Letterboxes found:  1
  • Curves on the road to Roan:  572
  • Clear views on Roan Mountain today:  0
  • Dogs Emma met on Roan Mountain:  1
  • Mushroom eating slugs:  7  
Emma on Cloudland Trail