The Highlands of Roan to Yellow Mountain

Well-known for its grassy balds and rich spruce/fir forests, the high-elevation ecosystem of the Roan Massif is a biological and recreational flagship of the region.   Located along the North Carolina/Tennessee border, the area narrowly missed becoming the National Park for the southern United States in the early 20th century, an honor that went to the Great Smoky Mountains.  Many day hikers, backpackers, and cross country skiers now know these mountains well, thanks to the Appalachian Trail which winds over the high ridge tops, showcasing panoramic views of the balds and the Black Mountains. Yellow Mountain’s steep landscape is largely undeveloped and surrounded by large parcels of land, providing essentially a contiguous unbroken landscape.

An Ecological Treasure And Panoramic Views At Risk

Many ecologically important sites and highly visible tracts for scenic views, remain at risk in the High-lands of Roan.  Roan’s spruce/fir forests are among the most endangered biotic communities in the United States, declining by more than 50% in the last 85 years.

Biological Diversity

The  Highlands  of  Roan  host  an amazing number of imperiled species; at least 32 species are federal species of concern, five are federally endangered, and three of these five are listed as G-1 species, signifying their global critical status.With  more  federally  listed  plant species in the Highlands of Roan than throughout all of Great Smoky Mountains  National  Park,  the Highlands of Roan area is a registered Natural Heritage Area in both North Carolina and Tennessee.

Cultural Heritage

Traditionally rich in Native American culture, Roan Mountain has become one of the most popular mountaintop destinations throughout Southern Appalachia due to its cultural heritage, the Appalachian Trail, the annual Rhododendron Festival, excellent cross-country skiing terrain, and the nearby Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee.“It is the most beautiful and will best repay the labor of ascending of all our high mountains.”–Elisha Mitchell, 1839

Economic Significance

As a more traditional rural economy continues to transition to an economy dependent upon quality of life measures—such as access to clean water, stunning views, open space and a rural lifestyle—the protection of the Roan Highlands and surrounding open lands makes good economic sense. Recreation, tourism & service industries are growing as is the construction  industry  for  retirees, seasonal residents, and others tied to economic activities emanating from growing metropolitan areas within 120 miles of the valley

Solidly connecting the Highlands of Roan to Yellow Mountain with voluntary land protection measures would protect critical wildlife corridors, scenic views, and supreme recreational lands. The North Carolina State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) identifies Roan as one of the best remaining locations of grassy balds, rock outcrops, spruce/fir forest and northern hardwoods, recommending additional land and conservation easement acquisition as a key tool in protecting these critical resources.

The potential of this area is a rare opportunity, and quick action is essential. Recognizing the vulnerability of the area’s privately owned lands to real estate development, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in partnership with The Nature Conservancy has permanently protected more than 15,000 acres on Roan from development – roughly two-thirds of the 24,000-acre Highlands of Roan area.  Adding to strategic land protection planning in the area, Blue Ridge Conservancy has worked with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program to identify naturally significant lands on Yellow Mountain and surrounding Avery County.  In August 2008, Governor Easley signed a bill establishing the Yellow Mountain State Natural Area as a way of protecting the Nationally Significant natural features of the area.

Leave Your Legacy

There are few ways that you can leave a greater legacy than through land conservation. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to preserve the magnificent landscape of the Highland of Roan to Yellow Mountain. Each donation brings us one step closer to conserving this biological and scenic gem for our great-grandchildren and beyond.

Land Trusts Serving the Highlands of Roan to Yellow Mountain


Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy
34 Wall St., Suite 502 Asheville, NC 28801


Blue Ridge Conservancy
P.O. Box 568, Boone, NC 28607