Discovery Center – Blog Discover gardens, nature and other nice things!

June 25, 2007

Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens

June 2007 Trip to Roan Mountain

My wife and I had an opportunity to visit the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Gardens on June 23rd, 2007. We barely missed the peak blooming which occurred on Tuesday, June 19th. The views were still spectacular! I wanted to share some of the history, statistics and nature images with you.

Roan Mountain is most famous for its acres of rhododendron gardens. Around the third week in June, the shrubs are covered with hundreds of large magenta blooms. The blooming peak last only a few days.

The mountain is a 5-mile-long ridge with the high point at Roan High Knob, 6,285 feet, and the low point at Carvers Gap, 5,500 feet.

The state line follows the Roan Mountain ridge, as does most of the Appalachian Trail. The US. Forest Service bought the 7,000 acres along the top and sides of Roan Mountain in 1941.


Roan Mountain’s high elevation results in cool, wet summers and harsh, cold winter. Roan Mountain is frequently in the clouds and sometimes above the clouds. The climate supports a forest of red spruce and fraser fir – a forest rare in the South. Many other plants and several animals survive Roan Mountain because of its cool, wet climate.

French Botanist, Andre Michaux, discovered the Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiensis) on roan Mountain in 1789. Many cultivated rhododendrons originated from this natural species.

Rhododendrons are celebrated every June with annual rhododendron festivals held in Roan Mountain State Park, TN and Bakersville, NS.

Roan Mountain Pharmacy

If you ever get the chance to visit during this time, you will always remember the natural beauty displayed around the mountain. 

History of Roan Mountain

Standing 6,285 feet on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Roan Mountain has been a popular destination for hundreds of years. 

People likely arrived in this area after the glaciers retreated around 10,000 years ago. Although the first people lived in the valleys, they hunted in the mountains. The Catawba Indian legend tells of a great battle with the Cherokee over the claim to Roan. After a fierce fight, Catawbas emerged victorious. To remember the battle, the Great Spirit caused the forest to wither from the battleground creating the balds, and so much blood was spilled that the rhododendron turned from white to red.


* The largest expanse of Southern Appalachian balds in the world stretch across the Roan highlands, return to Carvers Gap and head northward on the Appalachian Trail.

Spanish explorers came in search of gold, while world renowned botanists came looking for exotic plant species. Beginning with Andre Michaux in 1789, a steady stream of the world’s most noted botanists have enjoyed the rare plants of Roan Mountain.

In September 1898, John Muir arrived at the Cloudland Hotel feeling poorly. He wrote his wife, “The open broad ridge top for miles is covered with rhododendron about 5 ft. high which in flower must make a glorious show…The temp is distinctly alpine & for the first time since leaving home feel like my old self…this air has healed me…”

Cloudland Hotel

For more than 20 years, people of means traveled to Roan Mountain to enjoy the healthful mountain air and cool summers. The first hotel – a 21-room, spruce log retreat – was replaced in 1885 by a grand three-story hotel. The elegant Cloudland Hotel boasted carpets, fine furniture, copper bathtubs, and steam heat. Guests enjoyed bowling, croquet, and golf on the grounds. They relaxed in rockers on the wide porches and dined on three sumptuous meals each day. All this for $2 per day, $10 per week, or $30 per month.

In the early 1900s, Cloudland Hotel lost its luster and by 1910 it was abandoned and dismantled. Today nothing remains on the flat knoll once crowned by opulence.

The rich and the infirm came to the magnificent Cloudland Hotel in the late 1800s and early 1900s to take the invigorating air of the high mountains.

Even today some 200,000 visitors come to see the Rhododendron gardens in bloom in late June.

From Andre Michaux, the world famous botanist, to General John Wilder, a Union Army General who built hotels in the village and on the top of Roan Mountain; from the Roan’s inexplicable “balds” to the lush forests of its “Canadian zone,” Roan Mountain remains one of the most beloved places in the southern Appalachian highlands. EXCERPTS FROM “ROAN MOUNTAIN, A PASSAGE OF TIME” 

Here are a few of our June 23rd images. We can share more if there is an interest.

Powered by WordPress