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 half mile hike from the Parkway. While the top of the tower is not open, the staircase provides the a fantastic viewpoint for the rugged Black Mountains range, including the highest peak in the eastern USA. Sitting atop the 5,080-foot Green Knob Mountain, the fire tower 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 to monitor the landscape for forest fires. The decommissioned tower faced the threat of destruction several times. Fortunately, the tower was repaired in 1996 and cab restored in 2013. The National Forest Service now only opens the cab for special tours. It's on the National Register of Historic Places and straddles the Eastern Continental Divide.
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 gradually gains 340 feet in elevation. It is white blazed and maintained by the volunteers with the North Carolina High Peaks Trail Association. At the summit, the trail makes a sharp right turn. However, follow the trail straight ahead a short distance to reach the tower.
Here's a look inside the cab during our 2009 visit, before the restoration in 2013.
The tower can also be accessed via a grueling 3.3-mile ascent from the Black Mountain Campground. From the Campground, you can also hike the 5.5-mile Mt. Mitchell Trail to its 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.