Side trips: Blue Ridge Parkway and Mt Mitchell in North Carolina

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Day trip to Mount Mitchell - the highest point east of the Mississippi River.


At an elevation 6,684 ft., Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and it's easy and free for all to enjoy. Located 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville and 117 miles from Ridge View Lodge, it will take you about 2 hrs and 30 to 45 minutes to reach Mount Mitchell via a very scenic drive on Rt-321 E Parkway, via Cosby TN, Foothills Parkway, I-40, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.




From the Blue Ridge Parkway, drive NC Highway 128 all the way to the summit. From the parking area, walk up a 1/4-mile paved, accessible trail to the observation deck for 360-degree panoramic views.





Because of the altitude, many of the plants and animals are similar to those native to the 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, including Mount Craig (6,647 ft.), Balsam Cone (6,621 feet), Big Tom (6,581 ft.), and Mount Gibbes (6,571 ft.). You can find out more in the summit museum. The museum is open May-October.


What is in the name? A little bit of history.



The mountain, previously known as Black Dome for its rounded shape, was named after Elisha Mitchell, a professor at the University of North Carolina, who first explored the Black Mountain region in 1835, and determined that the height of the range exceeded by several hundred feet that of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, commonly thought at the time to be the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains. Mitchell fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls in 1857, having returned to verify his earlier measurements.


Useful tips for Visiting Mt Mitchell.


Bring a jacket or an extra layer of clothes. Temperatures are usually 10-30 degrees cooler than in Asheville. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Take rain gear along with you if you are hiking.

More often than not, the summit is covered in clouds and fog. We had good clear weather when visiting in November. The entrance is from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the traffic can be slow, especially on the weekends.


The Mt. Mitchell state park is open year-round unless the roads there 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. Before traveling, call the Park office at 828-675-4611 to check winter road conditions.


There is a 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).


For the more adventurous: Hiking near Mt. Mitchell.


Deep Gap Trail: For great views of Mount Mitchell from Mount Craig (6,647 ft., the second-highest peak in the eastern United States), take a two-mile round-trip 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. And you can continue for a longer hike. See our Deep Gap Trail / Mt. Craig Guide. 

Balsam Trail: We loved this easy, self-guided interpretive trail that 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 trail ends at the parking lot. Pick up a guide at the park office or summit gift shop. 





Mount Mitchell Trail: A long, strenuous hiking trail leads from the Black Mountain Campground to the summit. The trail climbs 3,600 ft. 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. Tip: park one car at the top and leave 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 the 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!


Weather at Mt. Mitchell


The weather on Mount Mitchell is very mild in the summer and very harsh in the winter. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the state (34 F degrees below zero) occurred there on January 21, 1985. Unlike the lower elevations around Asheville, snow is typical from November to March with an average of 90 inches each year. 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. Visit during the winter!




Hours & Admission
Admission is free.

Park hours are:

November-February: 7 AM-6 PM
March & April: 7 AM-8 PM
May-August: 7 AM-10 PM 
September & October: 7 AM-9 PM
Closed Christmas Day and for snow/ice. During the winter months, call the park office (828-675-4611) to see which roads are open. Mt. Mitchell averages 90+ inches of snow each winter.



Directions from  Ridge View Lodge - 117 mi

Directions from Appalachian Escape cabin - 116 mi