Hiking in Elk Knob State Park
One of North Carolina's newest state parks is Elk Knob, located near the colorfully-named community of Meat Camp, NC - not too far from the larger city of Boone and a stone's throw from the Tennessee state line.
There are plenty of mountains and scenic areas in this northwest corner of the state. Historically, much of it has been under private ownership and thus inaccessible to the public (at least officially: locals have been hiking here for years, but technically it's been without proper agreements from property owners). The new state park at Elk Knob changes that to a large extent; this is a superb destination and everyone is welcome and encouraged to visit!
Elk Knob itself is a rounded, east-west oriented ridge that tops out at 5,520' in elevation, making it one of the higher peaks of the Appalachians. It lies in a cluster of mountains north of Boone known as the Amphibolite Mountains.
These high peaks share a unique geology: they are underlain by Amphibolite - a metamorphic rock which, when it breaks down, forms rich soils. These soils - unlike those across much of the rest of the region - do not encourage heath plants such as mountain laurel, rhododendron, and blueberries to grow.
So while the forest consists of Northern Hardwood trees you'll see all over the high peaks in WNC - such as maples, birch, and beech - you won't find any of the heath shrubs that that typically crowd the understory areas. That makes the woods feel more open (at least in the winter) - totally different than others in the region. It's a unique and appealing!
The rich soils also provide perfect growing conditions for several rare and threatened species of plants. Wildflowers of all kinds carpet the understory areas throughout the growing season.
Right now, there is only one trail in the park (not including the old road which was once used to access the top), and it's called the Elk Knob trail. This newly-constructed, 1.8 mile trail climbs from the interim trailhead parking area to the summit, winding through many swithchbacks along the way. The trail is well-routed and was built by volunteers, and completed in 2011. Though the trail will need some touch-up and periodic maintenance throughout the years, overall it's in great shape and a great hike.
There's not much in the state park besides the trail yet. Portable toilets were available at the parking area last time I visited. There is a park office where you can stop in and get any information you might need. If you turn left on the main road before the parking area, you'll arrive at a nice picnic area with tables and grills. No water or other facilities are available in the picnic area, however.
These are considered "interim" facilities for the park, so in all likelihood, more development will happen here in the future.
From Boone, NC
Take US Hwy. 421 East for about 0.6 miles from the US Hwy. 421/221 intersection. Turn left onto NC Hwy. 194 and go 4.3 miles. Turn left onto Meat Camp Road (there is a sign for the state park here) and go 5.4 miles. The last part is steep and goes up the mountain. Turn right into the state park; it is 0.4 miles straight ahead to the trailhead parking on a gravel road.