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Carvers Gap
Pisgah/Cherokee National Forest, North Carolina

Fantastic displays of wildflowers, broad sweeping views, and an expansive chain of Southern Appalachian balds, each with a sea of waving grass, await the hiker trekking the Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge Bald—a 5.1-mile roundtrip through some of the south’s most impressive landscapes.

Carvers Gap, a low point along the Roan Mountain ridgeline, is situated near the base of Roan Mountain on the Tennessee/North Carolina border—the parking lot at the gap provides access to what thru hikers hype, and rightfully so, as one of the most beautiful sections of the entire Appalachian Trail.

To begin your exploration of this virtually treeless area offering unobstructed views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, cross TN 143 and climb the road bank and make your way through the wooden fence stile—the white-blazed AT continues north up the grassy hillside on a gravel path.

After hiking nearly a 0.5-mile, you enter a patch of high-altitude Fraser firs—planted in the 1940’s and now succumbing to old age, the skeleton like branches create a dramatic atmosphere.

Continuing north on the AT, you leave the shade of the fir trees behind and emerge onto the sunny summit of Round Bald (5,286 ft)—another 0.1-mile of level hiking provides amazing views of Big Hump Mountain and Grassy Ridge Bald. For the remainder of the hike, the views are fantastic—especially in the summer when the flame azalea, Catawba rhododendron, and the rare Gray’s lily are blooming.

At 0.6-mile, the level walking gives way to a moderate descent towards Engine Gap—after hiking 0.2-mile, the trail flattens out again, signaling your arrival at the gap. The flame azalea and Gray’s lilies were at peak bloom when we trekked through Engine Gap, providing a colorful display of orange bell-shaped blossoms set against green mountains and a blue sky.

Leaving Engine Gap, the trail climbs once again, this time to the summit of Jane Bald (5,807 ft) — huckleberry bushes, rocky slabs, and huge boulders from the Precambrian era dominate the landscape.

Jane Bald, named for a woman who died on this part of the mountain of milk sickness—poisoning by milk from cows who have eaten snakeroot—marks the junction where you descend about 100 feet to a low saddle, and eventually reach the junction where you depart from the AT to continue hiking towards Grassy Ridge Bald (1.7-miles from the trailhead).

The marked trail junction at the saddle instructs the hiker to turn left to continue on the Appalachian Trail, or right to reach the summit of Grassy Ridge—a steep, rocky ascent of nearly 500 feet in 0.8-miles awaits the hiker climbing to the top of Grassy Ridge Bald.

After a relatively strenuous climb, you reach the expansive grassy meadow atop the peak—fields of grass dotted with corn lilies, purple blooms of the Catawba rhododendron in season, and panoramic views of the finest high country in the southern United States are your reward for enduring the climb.

Topping out on the summit (6,189 ft), we dropped our packs on a well-placed rock outcropping to soak in the views, the breeze, and to enjoy a picnic lunch—Grassy Ridge Bald is one of the highest grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains, and its lofty perch offers (on a clear day) views of Grandfather, Sugar, and Beech Mountains to the east, and Mt Mitchell (the highpoint of North Carolina) in the Black Mountains to the south.

Sunshine on our shoulders, a breeze to our backs, jaw-dropping views, and a serenade by an eastern towhee made for the perfect rest stop—after about an hour of enjoying the view from our rock, we continued exploring the summit, stopping at the memorial to Cornelious Rex Peake before beginning our descent.

Retracing our steps, now southbound on the AT, we took pleasure in the surrounding vistas of a mountain that has long attracted hikers—Carvers Gap and the ancient grassy balds along this section of the Appalachian Trail are a must-hike for everyone—do yourself a favor and get there ASAP to explore them for yourself.

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