Visit the highest mountain peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains (and the east coast)! The renowned Mount Mitchell State Park is home to breathtaking 360-degree views. You can take a short walk to the summit and enjoy numerous hiking trails, birding opportunities, an exhibition hall, weather station, concession stand, gift shop, and restaurant.
Scientist, Elisha Mitchell, made history in 1835 when he, using only barometric measurements and formulas, estimated its height to be the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Interestingly, even without today’s technology, Mitchell was only 12 feet off the actual elevation of 6,684 feet. The discovery led to the decision to name the mountain in honor of this University of North Carolina professor. In 1915, it became North Carolina’s first state park.
Here are some highlights to make the most of your visit.
A Hiker’s Paradise
Summit Trail from Upper Parking Lot
Even if you don’t identify as a hiker, the trail leading from the summit parking lot to the observation deck is only ¼ mile long and paved. It can be a bit steep, but you can walk it at a slow pace and the panoramic views from the top are well worth your while.
Insider Tip: On a clear day, you can see for 85 miles, but the view is frequently shrouded in cloud cover. Check the weather report to find the clearest day to visit.
The Deep Gap Trail
About one billion years ago, Mount Mitchell and the surrounding mountains were born as sharp ridgebacks that eventually were worn down by erosion to become the rounded mountaintops they are today. And you can actually hike between them!
The Deep Gap Trail begins near the picnic area at the summit of Mount Mitchell and descends to its base before beginning a new ascent to Mount Craig. Rising to 6,647 feet, neighboring Mount Craig is the second highest peak east of the Mississippi River. This 2-mile hike between mountains is unique in that the altitude showcases flora and fauna not typically seen at lower elevations. The view from Mount Craig also offers spectacular views of Mount Mitchell.
The Balsam Trail
The Balsam Trail is a ¾-mile trail that begins at Mount Mitchell’s lower parking lot. It’s considered a moderately difficult trail, but you will not soon forget the heady balsam scent of the surrounding forest. There is also a small creek on the trail, making it the highest stream in the east.
Mount Mitchell Trail
The Mount Mitchell Trail is an advanced hiking trail that leads from the Black Mountain Campground to the top of Mount Mitchell. The ascent gains 3,600 feet over 5.6 miles, meaning the trail is very steep and difficult to navigate in some areas. Expect to find a striking forest of hardwood trees at the start of your hike. As you climb, the hardwoods turn into a forest of old-growth Spruce before becoming a forest of Frasier Fir at the summit. Some hikers choose to leave a car at the summit for the descent.
Old Mitchell Trail
Some hikers prefer to scale Mount Mitchell the way earlier explorers did in the late 1800s and early 1900s. If you’re up for this adventure, start at the State Park office and follow the Old Mitchell Trail for 2.2 miles to the summit. The hike is considered moderately difficult.
Due to its extremely high elevation, Mount Mitchell boasts a truly unique bird population not seen at lower elevations. While hiking any of the numerous trails in the Mount Mitchell State Park, listen for the tell-tale calls of over 90 species of birds. Some birders have reported spotting Winter Wrens and Ruffled Grouse in the forest. But don’t fret if you’re not a hiker. The observation deck at the summit of Mount Mitchell offers extraordinary opportunities for recording soaring falcons and other high-flying birds.
Explore the History
Head over to the Exhibition Hall at the summit of Mount Mitchell for a comprehensive look back at the early exploration of the state park. Of particular interest is the history of Elisha Mitchell’s discovery of Mount Mitchell as the highest peak east of the Mississippi River and how he calculated his findings without modern-day technology. Learn detailed information about the unique plants and animals and the geology found within the park.
Also check out the gift shop to find that special book or souvenir to remember your trip. Then enjoy a relaxing moment in the rocking chairs.
Where To Eat and Sleep
There is a concession stand in the gift shop for a quick snack during your visit. But you also can enjoy a sit-down meal at the summit restaurant where you can take in the breathtaking beauty that surrounds you.
Many visitors prefer to take advantage of the picnic area near the summit parking lot. There are 2 picnic shelters for larger group picnics, but you won’t have an issue finding a spot to lunch in smaller groups. The park provides 40 picnic tables with stone grills, along with a water supply and close-by restrooms, so you can plan to spend an entire day at the park.
We don’t blame you if you never want to leave this beautiful park, so pack a tent to pitch at 1 of 9 onsite campsites. Each campground is equipped with a grill and picnic table, and the restrooms are conveniently located nearby (although you’ll still be “roughing-it” without hot water or showers!)
What To Know Before You Go
Admission to the park is free and open year-round, weather permitting, except Christmas Day.
Check with the State Park office at 828-675-4611 for seasonal information and closures. Certain amenities, like the restaurant and gift shops, are only open from May to October. The office will also provide you with camping information and road conditions.
Bring a jacket or warm clothing, because the temperature can be up to 20 degrees cooler on Mount Mitchell.
Leashed dogs are permitted on the trails and at the summit.