Located in a 1,855-acre North Carolina State Park, Mount Mitchell (elevation 6,684 feet) is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Located about 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville, you reach Mount Mitchell via a very scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the Parkway, take NC Highway 128 all the way to the summit. From the parking are, walk up a 1/4 paved accessible trail to the observation deck.
Because of the altitude, many of the plants and animals are like those native to alpine environments of Canada. Mt. Mitchell is part of the Black Mountain range, formed more than a billion years ago. Six peaks in the small range are among the ten highest in the eastern United States. Tour the exhibit hall and dine in the restaurant (open May-October). Hike the highest North Carolina hiking trails (see below for more), including Deep Gap Trail to the second highest peak in the eastern USA, Mt. Craig. Tent camping is allowed ($12/day), but showers and hot water are not provided.
Tips for Visiting Mt Mitchell
- Bring a jacket or an extra layer of clothes. Temperatures are usually 10-30 degrees cooler than Asheville. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Take rain gear along if you are hiking.
- Eight out of ten days, the summit is covered in clouds and fog. Watch the weather, and try to visit when skies are very clear in Asheville.
- Allow plenty of driving time to reach Mt Mitchell (at least one hour from Asheville). The entrance is from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the traffic can be slow, especially on the weekends.
- The park is open year-round unless there the roads are covered in snow and ice. Since sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway close during much of the winter between Asheville and Mt. Mitchell, the only winter access is taking the Parkway south from NC Highway 80. Clear winter days can provide the longest views, but the wind and frigid temperatures can be unbearable. Call the Park office at 828-675-4611 to check winter road conditions.
- Enjoy a relaxing meal in the restaurant, located a half mile from the entrance of the park. Open May through October, it has a casual menu and scenic views. There's also a small gift shop and a "porch" with rocking chairs.
- The summit exhibit hall, concession stand and gift shop are also open May through October.
- Take a short hike on a paved trail (1/4 mile) to the Observation Deck atop Mt. Mitchell. It's ADA wheelchair accessible all the way (but uphill).
- Have a mile-high picnic. The shady picnic area, 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 perfect for group picnics.
To enjoy the diverse flora and fauna in the forests on the summit, take a walk on the loftiest North Carolina hiking trails. Even a short walk can be very rewarding. Our two favorite trails are relatively easy:
Deep Gap Trail: For great views of Mount Mitchell from Mount Craig (6,647 feet, the second highest peak in the eastern United States), take a two-mile roundtrip hike through a Canadian-like forest. Deep Gap Trail begins at the picnic area near the beginning of the summit parking area. You will descend Mitchell and climb to the peak of Craig. See our Deep Gap Trail / Mt. Craig Guide.
Balsam Trail: This easy, self-guided interpretive trail gives a glimpse at the effects of acid rain. This 3/4 mile loop trail begins near the observation deck. Go to the top of the observation deck, and as you head back to the parking lot, look for the Balsam Trail on the right. The trails ends at the parking lot. Pick up a guide at the park office or summit gift shop. See our Winter Hike on the Balsam Trail.
Mount Mitchell Trail: This long, strenuous hiking trail leads from the Black Mountain Campground to the summit. Most of the trail is on USFS property. Climbs 3,600' in 5.5 miles. It's steep and rough in sections, but there are spectacular views. You'll travel through a mixed hardwood forest at lower elevations, dense, old-growth spruce forests in upper elevations and almost pure stands of Fraser Fir at the top. An alternate trail to Higgins Bald adds 0.2 miles to the length. This path is shared with the Mountains to Sea Trail along its entire route. Many folks park one car at the top and leave from another car at the Campground, so you can easily hike this in one day. When leaving the campground (Setrock Creek Falls is nearby), the trail crosses a bridge over the South Toe River and enters a hardwood and evergreen forest. After many tight switchbacks up steep terrain, the trail crosses Higgins Bald Trail at 1.5 miles. After four miles, the trail passes remaining foundations of the 1920 Camp Alice logging camp. The trail then joins the Balsam Trail at mile 5.2 at the observation tower on Mount Mitchell. Just 0.3 mile farther is the parking lot. Want to add another 3.3 miles? Start your hike at Green Knob Lookout Tower instead!
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.
On eight out of ten days, Mount Mitchell is covered in clouds and fog that are sometimes as acidic as vinegar. In spite of the losses suffered due to this and the balsam woolly adelgid that killed many hemlocks on the mountain, the flora of Mount Mitchell remains among the most distinctive and diverse in the Southern Appalachians. The park protects the most extensive assortment of rare plant and animal species in the state park system, and the spruce-fir forests, while greatly diminished, are still present. Red spruce, fire cherry, yellow birch, mountain ash, and mountain maple have filled gaps opened by the loss of Fraser fir, and other native plant species such as blueberry, mountain raspberry, red elder, and bush honeysuckle produce beautiful blossoms and lend fragrance to the air. Wildflowers, including ox-eye daisy, white snakeroot, purple-fringed orchid, St. John's wort and pink turtlehead color the landscape.
Bird watchers have recorded 91 species in the park. Birds more characteristic of New England and Canada — including winter wrens, slate-colored juncos, red crossbills and golden-crowned kinglets — nest at these high altitudes. Spring and summer bring the drumming of ruffed grouse. From the observation tower, visitors can often see peregrine falcons whipping past. Lucky visitors might also catch a glimpse of a northern flying squirrel or hear the call of the saw-whet owl. Also see our Asheville Birding Guide.
The best way to get to Mt. Mitchell from Asheville is via the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 355.4). From the Parkway's Folk Center, just outside of Asheville, it's a 27 mile beautiful drive (mostly up!). Allow one hour to drive, since traffic can be slow and you'll want to stop at overlooks along the way. This section of the Parkway is closed much of the winter. The alternate route is to take I-40 East from Asheville to Exit 86. Follow U.S. 221 North about 10 miles to U.S. 70 West. Go about two miles to NC Highway 80 and go north to the Parkway. Drive south on the Parkway to the entrance of Mt. Mitchell State Park. Also see:Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway.
Hours & Admission
- Park hours are November-February 8-6, March and October 8-7, April and September 8-8, and May-August 8-9. The park is closed on Christmas Day. During the winter months, call the park office (828-675-4611) to see which roads are open. Mt. Mitchell averages 100+ inches of snow each winter.
- Admission is free.
Bring a jacket since it's often 10-30 degrees cooler than Asheville. The weather on Mount Mitchell is very mild in the summer and very harsh in the winter, more like Maine or southeastern Canada than the southeastern U.S. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the state occurred there on January 21, 1985 when it fell to −34 °F. Unlike the lower elevations around Asheville, heavy snows often fall from December to March, with 50 inches accumulating in the Blizzard of 1993. Snow flurries have been reported on the summit even in the summer months of June, July, and August. The summit is often windy, with the record being 178 MPH. See the current weather near the top of Mt. Mitchell. Visit during the winter!