Mt. Mitchell State ParkIn the heart of the Black Mountains of western North Carolina stands Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Named for the dark spruces and firs that cover the slopes of the higher elevations, the Black Mountains contain more than 20 peaks that rise above 6000 feet. Six of those peaks are among the ten highest in the eastern United States, making the Blacks the highest mountain range in the Appalachians.
Mt. Mitchell is also the namesake and centerpiece of the 1,946-acre Mount Mitchell State Park, located 33 miles north of Asheville off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker #355. Due to its relatively high elevation, the mountain and park encompass an environment that's more comparable to Canada than the Southern Appalachians. As a result, many of the plants and animals in the park are similar to those found in the boreal forests of Canada.
The mountain is named after Elisha Mitchell, a professor from the University of North Carolina who determined its height in 1835. On a return trip in 1857 to verify his earlier measurements, Mitchell fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls. His body is buried next to the platform where a stone marker memorializes his work in the area.
In 1915 a bill was introduced in the state legislature establishing Mount Mitchell as the first state park, and in the process created the North Carolina State Parks System.
In January of 2009 a new observation deck atop Mt. Mitchell was opened. From this vantage point, on a clear day, visitors can see as far as 85 miles and enjoy spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Pisgah National Forest.
Outdoor enthusiasts visiting Mount Mitchell State Park have numerous opportunities for hiking, camping and bird watching.
The park offers a nine-site, year-round, tent-only campground for families. Each site is equipped with a grill and picnic table. Modern restrooms are located nearby and are open during the warmer months.
White-tailed deer, black bear, the endangered northern flying squirrel, New England cottontail, and skunk make their homes in the park. Lucky visitors may also see a bobcat or gray fox.
Bird watchers have spotted at least 91 species in the park. Many of the birds found here are more normally found in New England or Canada, such as slate-colored juncos, winter wrens, red-breasted nuthatch, red crossbills, brown creepers and golden-crowned kinglets, many of which nest at these high elevations. From the observation tower visitors can often see peregrine falcons, and may even catch a glimpse of the saw-whet owl. Ruffed grouse can be found in the spring and summer, while migrating hawks and monarch butterflies can be seen in the fall.
Mt. Mitchell is also the destination for one of the most challenging bike rides in the country. Known as the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, this 102-mile supported bike ride from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, cumulatively climbs more than 11,000 vertical feet, including 6,600 feet in the last 24 miles! Cyclists can bike the entire route or end their ride in Marion, thus cutting out the final 24 miles and the steepest climbs. The ride attracts more than a 1000 cyclists each year.
Hiking in Mt. Mitchell State Park
Most of the trails in the park connect with trails on adjacent U.S.Forest Service land, thus making for excellent backpacking opportunities or extended day hikes.
Balsam Nature Trail (0.75 Miles) This is a short easy loop hike through a dense fir forest. This self-guiding nature trail at the summit identifies unique elements of the boreal forest it travels through. A short spur near the end leads to the highest spring east of the Mississippi, which runs at a constant 37 degrees.
Camp Alice Trail (0.75 Miles) Leads from Camp Alice, the location of a logging and a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, to the Old Mitchell Trail just above the campground. Although short, this is a steep and rough trail that travels through beautiful sections of Fraser fir forests. The Mountains to Sea Trail also follows this route.
Commissary Trail (1 Mile) This is an easy hike along a gently sloping gravel road to the historic logging/CCC camp site below the summit. The trail provides great views of Mount Mitchell while passing through grassy fields on Bearwallow and Grassy Knob Ridges. The trail also connects with the Mountains to Sea Trail, the Camp Alice Trail, and the Buncombe Horse Range Trail.
Deep Gap Trail (4.5 miles) Also known as the Black Mountains Crest Trail, this strenuous trail crosses four peaks above 6000 feet, including Mt. Craig (2nd highest mountain in the East), Big Tom, Cattail Peak, and Potato Hill before descending to Deep Gap, the location of a popular National Forest campsite. Although a rugged trail with very steep and rough sections, as well as lots of exposure, hikers are rewarded with spectacular views.
Mount Mitchell Trail (5.6 Miles) Starting from the Black Mountain Campground, this strenuous trail climbs 3600 feet in 5.5 miles to reach the summit of Mt. Mitchell. Although steep and rough in sections, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views. You'll travel through a mixed hardwood forest at the lower elevations, dense, old-growth spruce forests in the upper elevations, and Fraser Fir near the top. The path is shared with the Mountains to Sea Trail along its entire route. There's an alternate trail to Higgins Bald that adds 0.2 miles to the length of the hike.
Old Mitchell Trail (2 Miles) The Old Mitchell Trail begins from the park office and leads to the Summit Trail. The entire trail is above 6000 feet in elevation and provides spectacular views of the summit and the surrounding mountains. In addition to the restaurant and the campground, hikers will pass some wet, rocky, steep and exposed cliff sections along the way.
Summit Trail - This is an easy 0.1 mile path that leads to the observation deck at the summit.