Roan Mountain, including Roan Mtn. State Park
Site Directions: From Elizabethton take Hwy 19E to the town of Roan Mountain.
Turn right on TN 143. This road will take you to the state park in 2 miles and continue all the way to Carver's Gap on the crest of the mountain (also the border with North Carolina) in 13 miles.
From there a paved Forest Service road leads toward the summit where a gravel road branches off to the Rhododendron Gardens, ending in a loop just past the gardens.
The road up from Carver's Gap is closed in the winter, but you may walk or cross-country ski on it.
Near Campground - Lat-Long: 36.1761, -82.1787
Hours: mainly daylight hours, but nocturnal owling may be productive
Seasonality: year round, but spring through fall is best
Fees: none for most areas; but there is a fee per car for access to the Rhododendron Gardens area
Site Description: Roan Mountain is the highest mountain in northeast Tennessee at 6285 feet in elevation. Even the valleys are high here, with the town of Roan Mountain being about 2600 feet above sea level.
Natural wonders at "the Roan" are abundant. Roan Mountain State Park and the Cherokee National Forest (plus Pisgah National Forest on the North Carolina side) protect thousands of acres. The State Park is situated at the base of the mountain, while the National Forests cover the mid-slopes and summit.
Habitats vary depending on the elevation as do the wildlife. The small, but scenic, Doe River runs through the State Park. The state park has cabins and a campground, plus miles of trails.
The Appalachian Trail crosses the road at Carver's Gap. North-bound it heads across the grassy balds, while the south-bound route winds through the spruce-fir forest.
The trek across the balds is often considered to be one of the most breathtaking on the entire Appalachian Trail.
At the end of the Rhododendron Gardens, loop road is part of the Cloudland Trail, which goes out to an overlook on Roan High Bluff. The area may be crowded, mainly on weekends.
There is an annual Rhododendron festival in late June or early July. Naturalist Rallies are held in spring (weekend after Memorial Day) and fall (weekend after Labor Day).
Wildlife to Watch: Suggested birding sites and likely species to see include:
-Roan Mtn. State Park Visitor Center - on the left 2 miles from the Hwy 19E / TN 143 jct. Belted Kingfisher may be seen here along the Doe River and Northern Parula sings from the tall trees in spring and summer. The short Peg Leg Mine Trail behind the visitor center should produce Acadian Flycatcher and Ovenbird in summer.
-1.5 mile up the road is the entrance to the Dave Miller farmstead. Typical woodland and edge birds can be found here.
-Past that just 0.3 mile on the right is Picnic Shelter # 1. This is usually an excellent site, especially in migration. Warblers, vireos, thrushes, sparrows, and others may be seen in migration. Nesting species include Chestnut-sided Warbler and Gray Catbird, while Louisiana Waterthrush can be found across the road along the river. Restrooms are available here.
-Just past that is Picnic Shelter # 2, followed by the cabins area, park headquarters, and campground. All offer typical woodland birding, if not too crowded. Wild Turkeys may be seen in wooded or open areas, generally early or late in the day. White-tailed Deer are frequently seen at the State Park.
-Continuing up the road at 3.2 miles from Picnic Shelter # 1 is a pull-off on the right in a rather sharp curve. This is known to local birders as Golden-winged Warbler Curve, since this species can usually be found here, mainly May-June. Listen for its buzzy song either up-slope or down-slope from the road. Also easily found here are Least Flycatcher and American Redstart.
-Going on another 1.7 miles is the Twin Springs picnic site (36.121074,-82.08529). Tables and primitive restrooms are available. Summer birds include Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Veery, Black-throated Blue & Black-throated Green Warblers, Dark-eyed Junco, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Barred Owls are present year-round, as are Ruffed Grouse.
-Another mile up the road is a cluster of summer homes at Rustic Cabin Lane (36.1276,-82.082093). Park near the community mailbox. Flowers and feeders attract hummingbirds. Least Flycatchers nest here, as have Pine Siskins on two occasions.
-Past that is a series of pull-offs along the road that offer a quick chance at mid-to-high elevation woodland birds. Soon you will hear Canada Warblers and Winter Wrens singing, as well as Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Veery, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, all of which nest. Ruffed Grouse may occasionally be seen beside the road or heard drumming nearby.
-Carver's Gap (36.106412,-82.111114) offers access to the spruce-fir forest, grassy balds, and shrub balds, each with their own specialty birds. Right at the gap in the alder thickets nest Alder Flycatchers (mid-May into August), as well as Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Gray Catbird. Juncos are abundant throughout the higher elevations. Cedar Waxwings are often seen here, too.
Summer and fall wild-flowers attract large numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. In fall migration many warblers, thrushes, and other transients stream through the gap. Particularly numerous are Tennessee and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Swainson's Thrush, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Blackburnian and Cape May Warblers are common at that time, too.
Raptors (mainly accipiters, falcons, Osprey, and Harrier) pass overhead in autumn. American Woodcock may be seen or heard at the gap at dawn or dusk, spring through fall. Ravens are fairly common year-round in the highlands and sometimes venture to the valleys. The spruce-fir forest offers Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, Veery, Hermit Thrush, and Canada Warbler in summer; the nuthatch and kinglet also spend the winter here. Pine Siskins are year-round residents in this boreal forest zone. Red Crossbills may occur at any season but are dependent on the cone crop.
Northern Saw-whet Owl may be heard tooting on clear calm nights from March - September, although April - May are best. Vesper Sparrows nest on the grassy balds in some years, while American Pipit and Horned Lark may be found in migration. Snow Buntings occur some winters on the balds. Black Bear are fairly common, although you are more likely to see tracks or scat than a live bear. Red Squirrels are common in the spruce-fir forest. A primitive restroom is available year-round at Carver's Gap, just off the back end of the parking lot, and a modern restroom is available at the Rhododendron Gardens during the warm months.
Elevation changes create distinctive breeding habitats for species assemblages limited within the state. The elevated ridgelines provide passage for a large number of neotropical migrants. Elevation changes from 2,700' to 6,285' create habitat changes equivalent to 1,000 miles to the north. These distinctive habitats contain specific species assemblages that are limited in the state especially at middle and high elevations.
At lower elevations, below 3,000', hardwood forests, openings, and edges provide breeding habitat for Broad-winged Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo (rare), Acadian Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler (a Tennessee In Need of Management species), Yellow Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and Indigo Bunting.
At middle elevations, 3,000'-5,000', northern hardwood forests and edges attract breeding Least Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Veery, Golden-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Canada Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
At high elevations, above 5,000', northern hardwood forest, spruce-fir forest, and grassy balds contain breeding Northern Saw-whet Owl (a Tennessee In Need of Management species), Alder Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Red Crossbill (sporadic).
NOTE: Be sure to check out our Safety Tips page for important information regarding viewing wildlife in these areas.