2011 update: Tower under renovation, so the top is not open for visitors.
The Green Knob Lookout is visible from on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Mitchell. The panoramic views from atop the tower are certainly worth the 1/2 mile hike from the Parkway. The tower provides the best viewing point of the rugged and tall Black Mountains range, including Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Rockies. The fire tower, atop the 5,080-foot Green Knob Mountain, was built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1931.
The lookout was staffed through the 1970s, with someone living in the cab of the tower. After threat of destruction several times, the tower was repaired in 1996 so hikers can enjoy the view from the top. Today it's on the National Register of Historic Places, and it needs additional rehabilitation. Straddling the Eastern Continental Divide, the tower also features stunning views of the Great Craggy Mountains, Table Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and the North Carolina Piedmont.
To hike to Green Knob Lookout Tower, park at the Green Knob overlook at milepost 350.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just five miles north of Mt. Mitchell State Park. The trail is not obvious from the overlook, since there is no signage. From the overlook, walk about 100 yards north (turn right from the overlook) and look for the signpost for the trail on the opposite side of the road. The narrow 1/2-mile trail gains 340 feet in elevation. It has a yellow blaze and can be overgrown in areas. Since it is somewhat hidden, the trail is not used by many hikers.
The cab of the tower is unlocked, so it's a great spot for a picnic.
The tower can also be accessed via a grueling 3.3 mile ascent from the Black Mountain campground. From the Black Mountain Campground, you can also hike the 5.5-mile Mt. Mitchell Trail to the Summit. For a very challenging day hike, park one car atop Mt. Mitchell and drive another car to the Green Knob Parkway Overlook. Then hike down to the Campground and up 3,600 feet in elevation to the top of Mt. Mitchell - a total of 8.8 intense miles! Read more in our Mt. Mitchell Guide.
The tower can be seen as you drive north along the Blue Ridge Parkway (photo on right).