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Blue Ridge Parkway
Developed Areas

Mount Mitchell

Mt Mitchell, Mt Craig, Big Tom,
and Black Mountain Crest Trail


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Mount Mitchell at 6684 feet is the highest peak in the eastern United States.  The mountain is named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a professor of sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill who first suggested that the peak that bears his name was the highest in the Black Mountains Range. Dr. Mitchell died at a waterfall on the western slope of the mountain while returning from one of many exploratory trips to western North Carolina, which ironically was to recheck his measurements on the height of the mountain.

The Black Mountain Range was logged extensively during the early 1900's. In fact, Mount Mitchell State Park was created in 1915 to preserve the trees around the peak from being logged. Originally only 525 acres, the park expanded through several subsequent acquisitions until it reached its present size of 1469 acres in 1969.

Today, the summit is surrounded by the matchstick remnants of spruce and fir trees that have died in the last 25 years - all of them victims of a one-two punch delivered by an exotic insect and acid rain. The premature death of fir trees is not limited to the Black mountains. It is common above 5500 feet throughout the southern Appalachians. And there is increasing evidence that in some areas an unusually large number of high altitude hardwoods are dying prematurely as well.

Mount Mitchell State Park is located at milepost 355.3 of the Blue Ridge Parkway on NC 128, which winds 4.8 miles to a large parking area near the summit.  A short trail leads to a stone observation deck which allows for a 360 degree view of the surrounding area.  The views are spectacular and should not be missed.

The Mount Mitchell Campground has nine tent sites available.  The nine-site family campground is open throughout the year. Only tent camping is allowed. Each site is equipped with a grill and picnic table. Modern restrooms for use during warm seasons are located nearby.  Showers and hot water are not provided.  In the winter, campers have access to pit toilets, and no running water is available.

Mount Mitchell has a shady picnic area, which is open year-round, is located at the north end of the summit parking lot.  Forty picnic tables, stone grills and drinking water supply all the essentials. Two picnic shelters with fireplaces are used for large gatherings. Each shelter accommodates up to 16 people.

Hiking in Mount Mitchell State Park and the Black Mountain Range

Despite the ghostly tree skeletons on the summit, the Blacks are a great treat for outdoor enthusiasts. Rising more than 3000 feet above their base, these mountains offer some of the most strenuous hiking in the eastern United States. The Colbert's Ridge Trail, for example, ascends from 2750 feet at the trailhead near the Carolina Hemlocks Campground to 5700 feet at Deep Gap in only 3.7 miles. From there, if one heads south along the Black Mountain Crest Trail, Cattail Peak, (6584 feet) is only a little over a mile away.

Almost as strenuous is the Mount Mitchell Trail, a 5.6 mile hike that begins at an elevation of 3200 feet at Black Mountain Campground and ends at the 6684 foot summit of Mount Mitchell. About two miles from the campground trailhead a side trail to the left leads to Higgins Bald. Above Higgins Bald the trail continues to switchback up the south face of the mountain through an oak - hickory forest (below 4500 feet), then ascends into a northern deciduous forest of birches and other high altitude hardwoods (4500 feet - 5500 feet), and finally enters the spruce and fir zone just after the trail passes the remnants of an old logging camp from the 1920s named Camp Alice.  The Mountains to Sea Trail coincides with the Mount Mitchell Trail.

At Camp Alice the Mount Mitchell Trail intersects the Buncombe Horse Range Trail. At 17 miles, it is the longest in the Blacks. For most of its route, it follows old logging roads and the corridor of an abandoned rail tramway that took sightseers to the top of Mount Mitchell in the early years of the 20th century. It passes through Maple Camp Bald near its midpoint, a nice spot to have a sunny lunch on a clear cold day and gaze up at Big Tom and Cattail Peak.

The Black Mountain Crest Trail begins at the parking lot on top of Mount Mitchell and heads north along the crest of the Black Mountain Range. During its 12 mile course it crosses Mount Craig, Big Tom, Cattail Peak, and Potato Hill before descending to Deep Gap (5700.') Here the Colbert's Ridge Trail intersects from the right and descends 3.7 miles to Colbert's Creek Rd. near the Carolina Hemlocks campground. Continuing north the Black Mountain Crest Trail crosses Celo Knob before dropping to the trailhead at Bowlen's Creek Rd (3000').

The Balsam Nature Trail is a self guided interpretive trail that gives a startling introduction to acid rain deforestation as well as trees dying prematurely from an exotic insect.  This easy 0.8 mile loop hike starts near the parking area and Observation Platform Deck Trail.


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