Hiking in Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina
At the crest of the rugged Black Mountains rises the highest peak east of the Mississippi River: Mount Mitchell.
Created by the state in 1915 to protect the last stands of virgin timber on the mountain, Mount Mitchell State Park encompasses an environment more like that of Canada than the Southeast. Named for the dark spruces and firs that drape the highest mountains, the Black Mountains contain over 20 peaks that surpass 6000'. Although not as long or wide as the nearby Blue Ridge or Great Smoky Mountains ranges, the Black Mountains are indeed the highest.
A variety of hiking trails wind throughout the park and onto surrounding Pisgah National Forest land. Starting at the park office, two trails lead further into the park: the easy Commissary trail which goes to Camp Alice, and the Old Mitchell Trail which goes to the summit. From Camp Alice, you can connect with the Camp Alice trail itself which goes toward the summit, and the Buncombe Horse Range Trail which follows an old railroad bed on National Forest property.
You can also access the Old Mitchell trail from parking areas at the park's restaurant and the park's campground, and from there, connect with all other trails in the park.
From the summit parking area, there is a paved, ADA accessible path to the summit. Also, the Balsam Nature Trail makes an easy loop in the spruce-fir forest below the summit and is a great addition to a summit hike. The Mount Mitchell trail ends on the summit path and descends 3000' over a course of 5.5 miles to end at the Black Mountain Campground on the Toe River in the valley below. Along the way, it intersects the Buncombe Horse Range Trail mentioned above. Finally, the Black Mountain Crest (Deep Gap) trail leads from the picnic area out along the ridge top, crossing over the second highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains on its way: Mount Craig. This rough trail passes through Deep Gap, then descends the mountain to end in the valley far below.
This is just an overview of what's available. For details on each individual trail accessible from the park, visit the trails page, or for a more guided experience, view the Best Hikes that use these trails.
Visitors to the park can enjoy several amenities before and after they hike. Upon entering the park, stop by the park office (shown at right) for information, maps, and restrooms. This is also the starting point for the Camp Alice and Old Mitchell trails. Halfway to the summit is the Park Restaurant (open from May to October), offering great food with a view. Check out the fine selection of Mount Mitchell branded merchandise as well. At the summit parking area is a 40 table picnic area with two picnic shelters. Each table has a grill. Handicapped accessible tables are available as well. Also at the summit is a concession stand offering light snacks, drinks, and souvenirs, and next door is the park's museum. Here you can check out displays of the park's natural and human history, discover some of the geology that went into building the mountain peaks, and view the plant and animal life that lives there. Restrooms are offered at the summit area as well. While at the summit, hike the short, paved path to the new observation platform at the very peak, which replaces the old 40' tower which used to stand there.
Mount Mitchell Summit Reopens
The iconic tower atop 6,684' Mount Mitchell has been removed and the new observation deck atop 6.684' Mount Mitchell has opened. It was originally scheduled for completion in 2007, but was finally finished around November 2008. As of January 2009 notices on the Park's web site regarding closures around the construction site were removed, and a visit in February confirms that the summit has reopend. The short, round deck replaces the aging concrete and stone tower which was torn down a couple of years ago to make way for the new structure.
The mountain, park, and nearby waterfall are named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell (1793 - 1857), a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. He made several trips to the area over his lifetime to measure the mountains using barometric altimeters. Over several subsequent excursions up the mountain, he arrived at a height of 6,672 - a mere 12' shy of the actual elevation! Controversy arose later as to which peak in the range was actually the highest, or whether a peak in the Great Smoky Mountains was higher. Mitchell died after falling from the top of a 20 foot waterfall while descending the mountain through thickets of trees and rhododendron on a later trip to settle the argument. It is settled today: at 6,684', Mount Mitchell is indeed the highest. For further historical information, visit the park museum.
Places to Stay
Mount Mitchell Campground
A nine (9) site, tent-only campground is located about 2/3 of the way from the Park Office to the summit. At 6200' elevation, this is the highest campground in Western NC! The campground offers level tent pads, with fire rings, lantern poles and picnic tables at each. There are some shady sites in the firs and a couple of sunny ones where the trees have died. Water is avalable at several spigots around the campground and restrooms with flush toilets are available. Arrive early to get a spot on summer weekends. Simply set up in an unoccupied and unreserved spot and a ranger will come around to register you in the afternoon or evening. Alternatively, make a reservation before you go by visiting the NC Parks Reservations Page. If the campground is full, overflow camping is usually recommended at the Black Mountain Campground in the Toe River area at bottom of the mountain, connected to the State Park via the Mount Mitchell Trail or by vehicle on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sites range from $18/night in the summer to $12/night in the winter (with no running water and portable toilets only).
No backcountry camping is allowed outside the campground; however, there are excellent backcountry camping sites on adjoining National Forest lands and trails. Two of the most popular are Comissary Ridge and Deep Gap.
Sitting under huge oak tree and across from trout stream in Pisgah National Forest, Serendipity Cabin is a fortunate discovery! We're located at the base of Mt. Mitchell and within walking distance to the Mt. Mitchell Crest trailhead. Fish or go tubing in the South Toe River or play a round of golf at the Mt. Mitchell Country Club. Enjoy a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just 10 minutes away. The perfect combination: isolated but not too far from civilization. Amenities include: a wood fireplace, phone, a/c, satellite TV, VCR, stereo, DVD/CD player, full kitchen, microwave, dishwasher, fridge with ice maker, cooking utensils, W/D, BBQ charcoal grill and Internet Access.
From Asheville, take I-240 East to US 74-A East to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Exit right; turn right at the end of the ramp and drive North on the Parkway about 30 miles to NC 128 (there is a large sign for the State Park). Follow NC 128 for about 3 miles to the Park entrance; the summit is another 1.2 miles ahead.
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