Analysing terrain data
The exposure grade describes the potential consequences of falling or slipping off the path.
Low Exposure: The path is on completely flat land and potential injury is limited to falling over.
Medium Exposure: The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.
High Exposure: Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.
Extreme Exposure: Some trail sections are extremely exposed where falling will almost certainly result in serious injury or death.
Crossing the Nolichucky River, the white-blazed Appalachian Trail leads you into a beautiful section of trail.
A relatively uneventful portion of trail will lead you through Indian Grave Gap before making its way into the Unaka Mountains.
Arguably one of the most popular overlooks in the region, the Beauty Spot is a grassy bald with astonishing panoramic views.
A gravel parking area makes this an easily-accessible vista for those looking for a short walk.
Next on the list is the prominent 5,200' summit of Unaka Mountain, where you will be welcomed with more picturesque views.
Unaka Mountain Road also makes this peak accessible by vehicle, but the road can be quite rough certain times of the year and it would be advisable to have a high-clearance and/or 4x4 vehicle to make the drive up. After skirting the summits of a few high points, the trail continues onto Iron Mountain Gap—a small, remote access point to the Appalachian Trail.
A wide gravel pull off denotes you've reached the trailhead. During the spring and summer, this area is blanketed by picturesque wildflowers and foliage.
According to Appalachian Treks, atop Iron Mountain near the state line, an old apple orchard can be found.
While very little has survived over time, some have made efforts to maintain and preserve the area. Eight picturesque miles lie ahead, where you will pass over craggy mountainous terrain lined with overlooks.
Passing a shelter, you'll reach an overlook before passing over Little Rock Knob at 4,900'.
Hughes Gap lies just over two miles ahead. Continuing northbound on the AT, the trail points south as it reaches the high point of the range.
According to Wikipedia, "The mountain is clad in a dense stand of Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest, and includes the world's largest natural rhododendron garden, and the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian range." The highest backcountry shelter on the AT is located just past Roan High Knob.
A Native American legend speaks of a battle that took place atop the mountain, which provides one theory regarding the nature of the bald clearing. Along with the grassy bald, this area is full of dense forest and massive rhododendron gardens.
The final peak of the Roan Mountains, Grassy Ridge Bald, is a short spur off of the AT that is well-worth the trip.
Enjoy the views above 6,000 feet as this is the last time the trail reaches this elevation until the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Also a part of the 20-mile massif that comprises the Roan Highlands, Yellow Mountain, Little Hump Mountain, and Hump Mountain lie ahead.
Their expansive views are followed by a winding descent to US-19E, sometimes referred to as Wilder Mine Hollow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roan_Mountain_(Roan_Highlands) http://appalachiantreks.blogspot.com/2007/01/beauty-spot-sunset.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roan_Mountain_(Roan_Highlands) http://appalachiantreks.blogspot.com/2013/05/iron-mountain-gap-to-hughes-gap.html