A visit to the beautiful Roan Highlands of North Carolina and Tennessee takes the visitor to some of the most lovely mountain settings east of the Mississippi River, including the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains. Your visit can be accomplished by setting out either from Asheville, North Carolina, and heading north, or from Boone, North Carolina, and heading south. We are suggesting the route from Asheville to Boone, but you could just as easily travel in the opposite direction.
Asheville is justly famous for Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in American, built by George W. Vanderbilt and worthy of an entire day’s visit between the architect Richard Morris Hunt designed mansion and the Fredrick Law Olmstead gardens. Asheville is home to more Art Deco era building than any other southern city except Miami, so a tour of downtown is a feast for the eyes. The oldest house in town, the Smith-McDowell House, is also open to view. Visit the Pinball Museum, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and the North Carolina Arboretum, among the many area attractions. While in Asheville, stay at the impressive and authentic arts and crafts era Grove Park Inn, the Inn on Biltmore Estate, or the Country Inn and Suites Asheville West. Dine at Limone’s, Curate or the Sunny Point Café.
From Asheville, take Route 23 north toward Mars Hill, through Woodfin, a charming northern suburb of Asheville nestled along the banks of the ancient French Broad River. You will come to Weaverville, along Reem’s Creek Valley, where you can visit the Zebulon Baird Vance Birthplace, which is the restored childhood homestead of the North Carolina Civil War governor and Reconstructionist senator. See the old grounds, house, outbuildings, and visitor center. Quaint lodgings in town are at the Weaverville’s Inn or Dry Ridge Inn.
Mars Hill offers the visitor beautiful mountain views and is the home of the oldest educational institution in the state that is still in the place where it began, Mars Hill University. The Rural Heritage Museum, there, is a place to see artifacts of the history and culture of the Southern Appalachian area: hooked rugs, weaving looms, antique farm implements, and more. In Mars Hill, try Papa Nick’s for pizza or El Dorado for Cuban food. From Mars Hill, take 19 North towards Burnsville, continuing on 226 and 261.
Burnsville has a downtown made for strolling and shopping. Outside of town, go see Crabtree Falls, a 70 foot cascading waterfall, the hike is a little challenging, but well worth the view. Or for a very short, easier hike you can see the beauty of Roaring Fork Waterfalls. Nearby, for a real stimulating hike, climb Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak in the Eastern United States at well over a mile high. At an elevation of 6,684 feet. While in Burnsville dine at the Kirkwood Café or the Garden Deli. Stay at the Carolina Country Inn, or the Buck House Inn on Bald Mountain. Then take route 197 northward to Carvers Gap.
Carvers Gap sits on the line between North Carolina and Tennessee. If you want to hike the Roan Highlands, this is your Destination. Park at Carver’s Gap and go east to come to the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains: Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge. It is a five mile hike, round trip. As an alternative you can drive into the Roan Mountain Recreation Area in Pisgah National Forest and from the picnic area, follow a paved trail about a half mile though the rhododendron gardens to Roan High Bluff. From Carvers Gap follow 143 to Roan Mountain state Park; hike along the creeks and ridges, tour the century-old Miller Farmstead or enjoy cross-country skiing in winter. There are more than 12 miles of hiking trails, here. Follow 37 to Elk Park, and Elk Falls, the most impressive waterfall from a sheer volume standpoint in the Northeast Tennessee – Western North Carolina border area.
Continue on along route 194 to Banner Elk, the skiing capital of the south, as well as a home to every kind of outdoor adventure: hiking and fishing, rafting and caving. Complete your driving adventure in Boone, where you can really dig the Foggy Mountain Gem Mine, tour the Moses Cone Manor, with a gallery of work by many local artist and craftsmen, a vivid history and lovely mountain views. Recommended dining options in Boone include Joy Bistro and Gamekeeper Restaurant. Stay at the Courtyard by Marriott, Comfort Inn or the Hidden Valley Motel.
Many Native American settlements have been found around the base of Roan Mountain, which figures in the Catawba people’s oral history as the setting for major battle with the Cherokee. An alternate route to consider from Roan Mountain onward, would be to take a trip further back in time, northwest to Elizabethton, Tennessee. The Cherokee settlement of Old Fields was quite close to today’s Elizabethton. Elizabethton was also the location of the first independent American government west of the Eastern Continental Divide and the thirteen American colonies, called the Watauga Settlement at Sycamore Shoals, formed in 1772. Visit the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, a reconstruction of the 18th century Fort Watauga, and the Carter Mansion, to sample a bit of the first free and independent community on the continent.