Click image once to watch a video of the panoramic views from the observation deck on a frigid wintry day. It was near zero, so the video is short!
See more of our YouTube Asheville videos.
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 MOUNT MITCHELL
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. The park is open year-round, however sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway close during much of the winter between Asheville and Mt. Mitchell. During most of the winter, the only route 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. The restaurant, exhibit hall and gift shop are open May through October. Call the Park office at 828-675-4611 to check winter road conditions.
OVERVIEW OF MOUNT MITCHELL
View of Mt. Mitchell from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The summit is covered in clouds 8 out of 10 days.
Drive to the top of Mt. Mitchell. A concession stand is 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). See more views from the top.
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.
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.
The Mt. Mitchell gift shop, The Balsam Shop, is located at the summit next to the concession stand.
The 1,385 square-foot exhibit hall, located near the summit at the main parking area, is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., May through October. If offers insight into the mountain's natural, cultural and historical faces. The interactive weather station is particularly interesting.
HIKING: 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!
CAMPING: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. Campers may leave vehicles in the park overnight to backpack into the Pisgah National Forest. Visitors who leave their vehicles in the park must register on the forms provided at the trailheads near the parking area or at the park office. Mount Mitchell offers a choice of trails from which to enjoy the nearby alpine woodlands. Online reservations are available for campsites at Mt. Mitchell and other North Carolina State Parks.
PLANTLIFE: The forests have long been affected by a variety of natural factors, including wind, ice, snow, drought, and infrequent lightning-caused fires. But unrestrained logging, huge fires in the logging slash, and chestnut blight brought drastic changes to the forests throughout the Black Mountains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These impacts were followed in the 1950s by the arrival of the balsam woolly adelgid, an insect pest native to central Europe. The adelgids infested and killed large numbers of the Fraser firs, permanently altering the forest ecology in the highest elevations of the Black Mountains. Air pollution and acid-laden precipitation are also contributing to the long term decline of Mount Mitchell's spruce-fir forests. In fact, on eight out of ten days, Mount Mitchell is covered in clouds and fog that are sometimes as acidic as vinegar. Faced with a combination of stresses, the forests of the Black Mountains have been irreparably altered.
In spite of the losses suffered over the last century, 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.
BIRDING: 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.
View from the Observation Deck of the parking lot at the summit.
HOW TO GET THERE
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 AND 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.
Mount Mitchell covered with snow and rime ice. Look for observation deck on the summit.
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!
BIKE THE ASSAULT ON MT. MITCHELL
Bike the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, a very challenging 102-mile supported bike ride from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the top of Mt. Mitchell. You will climb a cumulative of 11,000 plus vertical feet (6,600 feet in the last 24 miles)! You can bike the entire route or take ride the Assault on Marion, a 78-mile ride that stops before the steep climb to the top. While the ride is in May each year, riders can experience dramatic weather changes along the climb. Snow or strong winds are always possible near the end of the ride. It is presented by the Freewheelers of Spartanburg bike club.
HISTORY OF MT. MITCHELL More than a billion years ago, the Black Mountains were formed. This mighty range of peaks once stood lofty and rugged. But over millions of years, wind, water and other forces wore down the pinnacles to their rounded, more subdued profile of today. Only the erosion-resistant igneous and metamorphic rocks allowed Mount Mitchell to retain its dramatic height of 6,684 feet.
Long before explorers left Europe in search of the New World, various Native American tribes inhabited the area surrounding the Black Mountains. In the mid-1700s, the tribes were joined by settlers primarily of Scotch-Irish and English origin. In 1787, French botanist Andre Michaux journeyed to the Black Mountains to seek the region's most valuable plants so the French government could cultivate them on their royal plantations. On his botanical excursions to the area, Michaux collected more than 2,500 specimens of trees, shrubs and other plants. About the same time that his French counterpart explored the area, Englishman John Fraser collected plants from the region to introduce to his native land. It was for this botanical explorer that the most abundant tree along the crest of the Black Mountains — the Fraser fir — was named.
In 1835, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a science professor at the University of North Carolina, made an excursion to the area to measure the mountain elevations. At the time, Grandfather Mountain was assumed to be the highest point in the region, but previous trips to the area had persuaded Mitchell that the Black Mountains were higher. Through the use of barometric pressure readings and mathematical formulas, Mitchell figured the highest elevation of the range to be 6,476 feet, higher than that of Grandfather Mountain. Subsequent visits to the Black Mountains in 1838 and 1844 led Dr. Mitchell to calculate the height of the peak at 6,672 feet — amazingly, only a mere 12 feet in error of modern calculations.
In 1857, Dr. Mitchell returned to the Black Mountains to verify his measurements. While hiking across the mountain, he fell from a cliff above a 40-foot waterfall. Knocked unconscious by the fall, Dr. Mitchell drowned in the water below. In honor of his work, the highest peak in the Black Mountain range was given his name in 1858. Though originally buried in Asheville, Mitchell's body was reburied atop Mount Mitchell a year later.
Until the late 1800s, the Black Mountains remained largely in a wilderness state. The only apparent influence of man upon the environment was a reduced animal population caused by increased settlement and hunting. This lack of exploitation of natural resources was not to last, however. By the early 1900s, extensive logging operations had denuded much of the Black Mountain range. Logging activity had expanded rapidly by 1913 and citizens began to voice their alarm about the destruction of the forest. Foremost among them was Locke Craig, governor of North Carolina from 1913 to 1917.
In 1915, a bill was introduced in the state legislature establishing Mount Mitchell as the first state park. The legislation passed both houses quickly and on March 3, 1915, the North Carolina State Parks System came into being. In appreciation of Governor Craig's efforts, the second highest peak east of the Mississippi, with an elevation of 6,647 feet and also in North Carolina, was named Mount Craig.