The summit of Mount Mitchell is the highlight of this park and the reason it was North Carolina’s first state park – and one of the first state parks in the nation (1915). Mount Mitchell ushered in an era of conservation and celebration of the natural landscape.
What’s the draw?
Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, stands 6,684 feet above sea level and from the observation deck it feels as if you can see all of North Carolina. Of course, you can only see 100 miles or so on the most clear of days, but the view is dramatic in any case. Add to that nearly 40 miles of hiking trails, entry to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and four other peaks above 6,300 feet inside the park and you come up with a lofty park, challenging hikes and a must-see summit.
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From the summit of Mount Mitchell, you can take in that landscape stretching far and wide – the mountains in folds beneath your feet, dark with spruce-fir forests. The weather can be dramatic and unpredictable, making for intriguing photographic opportunities from the summit.
To reach the summit you have several options. The easiest is to drive to the parking area and take the steep and curving 0.25-mile walkway to the circular observation platform at the summit. The most challenging route is the 6-mile Mount Mitchell Trail, a strenuous hike that begins at the Pisgah National Forest’s Black Mountain Campground. You can also take the Old Mitchell Trail, a tough hike – 2.2 miles point-to-point – from the park office to the summit. No matter how you get there, you’ll have big views and plenty of great photo opportunities.
There are four other peaks above 6,300 feet in Mount Mitchell State Park, including the second-highest mountain east of the Mississippi River: Mount Craig, standing at 6,648 feet, is named for Gov. Locke Craig, who signed the bill into law that established the N.C. Parks System. It is impressive. You can hike to the top of Mount Craig and Big Tom, a peak standing 6,581 feet, if you take the Deep Gap Trail. The Deep Gap Trail is 4.3 miles point-to-point (8.6 miles round trip) and follows the crests of the Black Mountains. Like all trails in the park, it’s strenuous thanks to some difficult ascents and descents along the way.
No matter when you hike or what trail you take, note that due to the elevation at Mount Mitchell State Park, the temperatures are on the cool side even in summer. Weather can be difficult to predict, with fog and rain and snowstorms popping up suddenly. If you’re planning on an extended hike, be sure you have the appropriate gear to cover potential weather conditions.
Mount Mitchell State Park is at 2388 State Highway 128 in Burnsville – or from Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 355. Admission is free. Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. March-April; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. May-August, and 7 a.m.-9 p.m. September and October; shorter hours in winter. The visitor center is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily April-October; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays in other months; the museum is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily May-October. Info: 828-675-4611 or www.ncparks.gov.
It can be difficult to pick a place to eat and drink in Asheville – it’s hard to go wrong. But for some of the best food, try Cucina 24 (www.cucina24restaurant.com) or Rhubarb (www.rhubarbasheville.com) for a dressy dinner and White Duck Taco Shop (www.whiteducktacoshop.com) for a casual lunch.
It seems there’s something going on every month, with the Biltmore Blooms Festival (through May 26; www.biltmore.com/events) and the Spring LEAF Festival bringing artists, musicians and merrymakers together at Lake Eden in nearby Black Mountain (May 12-15; www.theleaf.org/the-festival). May 28, celebrate beer with the Beer City Festival suds soiree (www.beercityfestival.com).
And every Saturday throughout summer, the Ooh La La Curiosity Market (www.oohlalacuriositymarket.com) fills Pritchard Park with artists plying their wares.
Area info: www.exploreasheville.com.