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Round Bald is one of the most easily accessible locations for stunning views on the entire Appalachian Trail. Just a twenty minute walk whisks visitors away from the hustle and bustle of the world to the Roan Highlands and uninterrupted views in all directions. Pack a picnic, spend the night, play catch, it really doesn’t matter what you do just so long as you enjoy it.
The journey to Round Bald begins with a drive to Carver’s Gap. From the Tennessee side take Highway 143 through Roan Mountain State Park, and from the North Carolina side take Highway 261 from Spruce Pine. Carver’s Gap is right near the state line and the entrance to the Rhododendron Gardens on Roan Mountain. There is a small parking area, privy, and small campsite for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.
Wear a good pair of hiking shoes, take water, but most importantly of all take a fleece hoodie or rain jacket with you no matter the current weather conditions. Round Bald is a couple thousand feet higher than nearby cities like Elizabethton, Johnson City, and Spruce Pine, which means it’s always a bit cooler. Summer thunderstorms can sneak up on visitors in a heartbeat and leave you drenched to the bone on the exposed mountain top.
The hike up take about 20-30 minutes and is fairly easy. The slight incline continues from the parking lot to the top of Round Bald as it passes through a dense forest for a few minutes. But near the bald top you might find it difficult to keep hiking as you stop to take in the panorama vistas. Round Bald is the beginning of the Roan Highlands, a series of bald mountain tops for several miles along the Appalachian Trail.
At the top on warm summer days you’ll find all kinds of people enjoying the views. Couples will come with a picnic and a book to spend the afternoon. Families will come with their dog and a frisbee. Outdoor enthusiasts will bring their camping gear, pitch a tent, and spend the night nestled in a small grove of trees on top of the bald. Sunsets are spectacular, the views are unmatched, and even the air feels clean and refreshing.
This is one of the easiest day hike destinations on the Appalachian Trail in the region. Just an hour’s drive from Johnson City, Tennessee and two hours from Hickory, North Carolina, this is a great place to begin a day hike either northbound or southbound. Just 35 miles south is Erwin, Tennessee; along the way you’ll cross Unaka Mountain and the infamous Beauty Spot, and Erwin is a great place to hitch a ride back to your car at Carver’s Gap. Just 14 miles north the AT crosses US Highway 19E and 46 miles it crosses Highway 321 at Watauga Lake.