The Natural Rhododendron Gardens of Roan Mountain
Every June thousands of people flock to Roan Mountain to walk among the magnificent mounds of rhododendrons. In a good year, these dense shrubs, standing taller than a person, create a spectacular display with thousands of magenta blooms. Each rhododendron’s round, manicured shape is a testament to severe pruning by wind and winter weather. The peak blooming period is usually around the third week of June, but this year, the bloom has come early, and the blanket of flowers over the upper slopes of the mountain are already impressing impatient visitors.
Around 1830, General John T. Wilder bought 7,000 acres across the top and sides of Roan Mountain. It was Wilder who built the road to Carver’s Gap at 5,550 feet. He also constructed a 20 room log inn near the summit of Roan High Knob in 1877, then replaced it with the luxurious Cloudland Hotel. For about 20 years, guests enjoyed the “pure air, and the delightful temperature, the clear, cold spring water, and the perfume laden woodlands.” Today little evidence remains of the once elegant hotel. A road leads up the mountain to the world renowned gardens that feature the largest display of Catawba Rhododendron in the world.
A final look to the east shows the magnificence of this mountain and this garden. During the Great Depression, truckloads of plants were carried off and sold at nurseries, and it was only after Roan Mountain was added to the national forest system were the rare plants preserved.