Photographic Bucket List: Roan Mountain

Roan Mountain Gardens
Roan Mountain Gardens

Every photographer has a photo bucket list of places they would like to photograph. Either they have seen pictures of the place or someone they know has been there.  I am no exception. When I lived in Virginia, Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway was the place to photograph Rhododendron. Another place to photograph rhododendron was Roan Mountain in June.  About 3 weekends ago I had the opportunity to photograph at Roan Mountain with other photographers at a great workshop led by Kate Silvia ( and Kenny McKeithan (

The Roan Mountain and Gardens are located in the Cherokee National Forest which is on the North Carolina/Tennessee State border. The Gardens are an easy hike from the parking lot and there are picnic tables and public bathrooms. The Appalachian Trail crosses through the area.

We lucked out with weather because our day on Roan Mountain could not have been more beautiful:   blue skies, mid-70’s weather and not too windy. We spent a whole day on Roan Mountain starting with the Gardens and moving on to the “balds” in the afternoon. Balds are mountaintops that are bare of trees.  (

This fence was photographed at Carver’s Gap (5,512 ft) just as we began our 1.5 mile hike to Jane Bald (5.807 ft.)  where we would view the sunset.

Roan Mountain Fence
Roan Mountain Fence

Peak bloom for the rhododendron can be difficult to predict because of variable weather.  My husband and I had taken a trip up to the vicinity in May and found the rhododendron but they were not at their peak. The rhododendron blooming period can be as long as 2-3 weeks.

Hiking at high elevation can be tiring. Hiking 1.5 miles with a backpack full of photo gear and a tripod in the altitude is especially tiring and stressful. We realized that two bottles of water were probably not enough. Also, on a sunny day, a hat and sunscreen are absolutely essential.

One of the highlights of our hike was the Flame Azalea patch at Eagles Gap between Round Bald and Jane Bald.

Flame Azalea at Eagle's Gap
Flame Azalea at Eagle’s Gap

One of the things to keep in mind as you photograph landscapes in the mountains is that it is important to have a polarizing filter on your lens. The polarizer fits on the end of the lens and helps to reduce glare on green leaves or water. It will also intensify the colors, for example, it will intensify the color of blue in the sky. As you look through the lens, turn the polarizer slowly and notice the change in the hues. They will go from lighter to darker. You want to darken or deepen the colors.

We were lucky enough to stay on the mountain for the sunset at about 8:30 pm.  Walking back to the car I met up with a group of young people who were equipped with headlamps. My little flashlight was not very bright and I was so happy to have their company. They were working at a local camp in a service capacity.


4 Replies to “Photographic Bucket List: Roan Mountain”

  1. Beautiful photos, Phyllis! That was such a great trip. I’d never been there before, so it was especially wonderful. I’ve already signed up for the NC Foto Fest in September. Thanks for telling me about it! I’ll see you there!

  2. Hi, Phyllis-
    Thanks for including me in your blogger audience!
    I love your pictures…all the physical effort getting them was worth it.
    I hope you will post more
    Ches Smith

  3. Phyllis…. i love what you are doing….truly very artistic and beautiful !!!!
    :-) Patti

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