Ten Things You Need to Know About Roan Mountain State Park
Nestled on the North Carolina and Tennessee border, this state park is one of Tennessee's premier camping and hiking locations. It offers great views, beautiful streams with excellent fishing, and an excellent entry point for hiking the Appalachian Trail.
What you need to know about the park:
1. It is late-camper-friendly. The official camp check-in office is located about two miles outside the park’s entrance. In April, the office closed at 4 p.m. However, you are permitted to spend the night and pay the next day. There is a procedure to follow, and it is clearly explained on the form.
If you arrive at the park after the camp store has closed, you can still spend the night, provided spots are open. Simply set up camp, and visit the onsite campground store in the morning to secure additional nights. If you are a tent camper, make sure to use the tent pad for tent sites, and if you are using a RV site, set up your tent on the asphalt. Tents are not permitted on the grass. We were unaware of this and pitched our tent on the grass and a friendly park ranger had us move it to the blacktop the following morning -- when he made his rounds through the park.
2. Park Rangers are present. I prefer camping in sites where I know there is assistance if I need it. Roan Park accomplishes this by the presence of Park Rangers -- who are willing to answer questions, like information on local trails. They also have a campground host. The host resides in a highly visible campsite fairly close to the camp store.
3. It has an access point to the Appalachian Trail. Less than 10 miles from the state park, at Carver’s Gap, you can hike either north or south on the Trail. If you head north, expect some difficult hiking, since you begin at an elevation of 5,500 feet and within a couple of miles will be above 6,000 feet. It’s worth the climb though because the view, all 360 degrees of it, is spectacular with mountains, valleys, and in late June to early July, rhododendrons in bloom.
4. Tent camping is inexpensive with excellent sites. Inside the state park, there are two camping options, electric or non-electric. The electric sites are designed for RVs but do allow tent camping. The tent sites, at least the ones near the entrance, are squared off, filled with pea gravel to create a level, relatively well-draining site. In the main section, the tent sites are just as close to the restrooms and bathhouses as the RV sites. In 2018, tent sites rented for $17 per night compared to $32 for RV sites.
5. Waterfalls. Another stellar feature of the region is the number of waterfalls and brooks. I’ve hiked a lot of parks in Ohio, and none of them have the crystal-clear creeks, brooks and waterfalls like in the Roan region.
6. Trails. If you are a history buff, take in the Over the Mountain Men trail. The trail commemorates a group of men who traverse through the region to fight against in the battle of King’s Mountain (Revolutionary War). Historian assert that the battle, won by this rag-tag group of men, was instrumental is turning the tide toward American independence. In addition to this trail, the park has 12 miles of easy-to-difficult hiking trails. During June (around the third weekend -- depending on weather) many of the trails will be filled with rhododendron blooms.
7. Check out the diners and dives. It is an isolated region due to the ruggedness of the terrain; however, a few diners exist within five miles of the park’s entrance. We found a local pizza-sandwich house with excellent pizzas. You will also want to buy a pork sandwich from Bob's Dairyland. It is thinly sliced pork seasoned with a slightly sweet-tangy bbq sauce. The flavor and tenderness of the meat is definitely worth the drive.
8. Stop at the store before setting up camp. The closest large discount store (Wal-Mart) is 20 or so minutes away making it impractical to run there very often. Swing through on the way to the park, because there are enough trails to keep you busy all day.
9. Beware of wildlife. As a hiker from southwest Ohio, I do not normally worry about wildlife. In Ohio I am accustomed to seeing deer, wild turkeys and an occasional groundhog or non-venomous snake. Because of this I often let my dog off-leash since the wildlife will not harm her. In the Roan region, though, there are bears – and even inside the state park, campers are advised to store food in sealed containers. Poisonous snakes also exist, presumably just off the trail. One local hiker advised to place my dog back on the trail due to the possibility of poisonous snakes.
On our April excursion, we did not see either, even though it was an unseasonably pleasant 70-degree day. Take warnings seriously about bears or venomous snakes.
10. Consider fishing. Besides the beauty of the terrain, the local flora, the hiking trails, and the access point to the Appalachian Trail, another reason the park is popular is it provides excellent fishing opportunities (permit required). As the state park’s website notes, “The Doe River is cool enough year-round to be home to three species of trout. Native brook trout, as well as rainbow and brown trout, are stocked regularly.” Although I have not fished for trout since my youth, I know from personnel experience that they are a thrill to ‘pull in.’
The park is enticing enough for my wife and I that we went twice in 2018. We will return next year, too. Although, it was a little cool (at night) in April when we camped, it was not uncomfortable. June was 'picture perfect' weather, and the views are simply spectacular. We now would like to visit in the fall.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.