Rhododendron Festivals

Grandfather Mountain Rhododendron Festival

Late spring and early summer is the time for Rhododendron festivals.

Rhododendron Festivals at Roan Mountain and Grandfather Mountain herald the beginning of summer. Roan Mountain and Mother Nature team up to showcase Rhododendron blossoms in the highlands.

Roan Mountain has wowed visitors with its annual Rhododendron Festival for 60 years, and this year’s event, slated Saturday-Sunday, June 22-23, 2019, is no exception. Join visitors from all over the country and enjoy a spectacular walk through the world’s largest natural rhododendron gardens atop 6000 ft. Roan Mountain.  The rhododendron gardens are located in a Canadian temperate zone which is the perfect climate for this showiest of native plants. Hundreds of bushes, each of which might produce more than 100 clusters of flowers, cover the mountain.  Roan is the highpoint of the Roan-Unaka range of the southern Appalachian Mountains, and is also home to the largest stretch of grassy balds (Grassy Ridge, a type of highland meadow characterized by thick native grasses, shrubs, and few trees) in the Appalachian range. The Cherokee National forest and Pisgah National forest converge atop the mountain and Roan Mountain State Park is located near its northern base.

The Appalachian Trail wanders for most of Roan’s Crest which is home to Roan’s High Knob Shelter, the highest backcountry shelter on the entire 2,174-mile trail. Roan Mountain comprises the greater part of Roan Highlands which stretches from Big Rock Creek in the west to U.S. Route 19 in the east.

Roan Mountain contains five mountain peaks, and is divided into two sections by Carver’s Gap. Roan High Bluff and Roan High Knob are west of Carver’s Gap and both feature a dense coniferous forest. This section of Roan resembles a double-humped camel that house High Bluff and High Knob. Tollhouse Gap, located between the two peaks, is home to the Rhododendron Gardens. Surrounded by evergreen forests the gardens soar above Appalachian valleys and are frequently above cloud levels, hence the name “Cloudland”

“It is the most beautiful of the high mountains…with Carolina at its feet on one side and Tennessee on the other, and a green ocean of mountains rising in tremendous billows around her.” Dr. Elisha Mitchell (for whom Mt. Mitchell is named.)

The festival features entertainment on both days as well as a variety of food and arts and crafts vendors. This family friendly event offers something for everyone. Come for the Rhodos and stay for the fun. Rent a rustic cabin or bring your own camping gear; relax by a cool babbling stream; play tennis, splash in the local pool, or hike a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail that straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and meanders through the largest expanse of grass open lands in the Southern Appalachians.

Roan Mountain State Park  is located on Highway 143 in  Roan Mountain, TN (between Asheville, NC and Johnson City, TN on US Highway 19-E) is 40 miles from Boone and Blowing Rock, NC, and 20 miles from Banner Elk, Beech Mountain and Linville NC.

Nearby attractions:

Watauga Lake at the top of the mountains offers abundant recreational opportunities including boating, waterskiing, swimming, picnicking and camping facilities.

The covered Bridge at Elizabethton is one of the few historic bridges remaining in the US that is still in use today. Built in1882, the bridge is surrounded by a mini park.

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park house Fort Watauga, a visitors center and museum, and information on Tennessee’s official Outdoor Drama, The Wautaugans,  which tells the story of the “Overmountain Men and the Battle of Kings Mountain, a turning point in the American Revolutionary War. The drama is presented Thursdays-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. the last three weekends in July

Roan Mountain is a great one tank trip from the Smokis!

Roan Mountain is a great one tank trip from the Smokis!

Annual Rhododendron Ramble scheduled on Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain celebrates the stunning seasonal Catawba Rhododendron, which usually peak in Late May though the first week in June, with its annual Rhododendron Ramble slated June 1-11.  The ramble includes guided walking, tours by staff naturalists who provide cultural back-stories and explain the plant’s many uses. Rhododendron’s flourish at higher elevations and cooler temperatures, and the spectacular Catawba Rhododendrons really put the spotlight on the Appalachian Mountains with this colorful display.

Lauren Farrell, interpretation and education programs coordinator of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the non profit organization that oversees and operates the Linville nature park, said the blooms signal the arrival of summer. “The rhododendron’s colors are the most extraordinary in the mountains, so the guests who visit during this time are sure in for a treat,” Farrell said.

According to Amy Renfranz, director of education for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, four species of rhododendron grow wild on Grandfather Mountain and she expects three to bloom in time for the ramble. These include: Flame Azaleas (R. calendulaceum), ranging in color from yellow to orange, peach or red,  can be viewed at the mountain’s main entrance or at Split Rock in late May-July; Catawba rhododendron (R. catawbiense) features deep purple blooms from early to mid-June and is the most well known. This towering beauty forms a natural frame for some of the miles of hiking trails (which include the Bridge Trail to the more challenging Grandfather Trail) and provides an up close experience with the spectacular blooms on the walks that also feature amazing views; Rosebay rhododendron (R. maximum) with its light pink flowers blooms late June and may possibly be seen during the ramble.

While many rhododendrons have already bloomed in lower elevations of the High Country, the range of elevation on Grandfather, which boasts nearly a 1,000 foot change from base to peak, provides a longer window of opportunity to enjoy the blooms. The ramble tours are included with the price of admission to the park which is located on U.S. 221, two miles north of Linville, NC and one mile south of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 305. The address is 2050 Blowing Rock Highway, Linville NC.

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