Over my two weeks in Asheville I covered many trails, most to short popular overlooks, little mountains, and waterfalls. I wanted one hike to be proud of, and there was no better choice than tackling the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,684′ in elevation: Mount Mitchell.
Length: 11.4 miles RT, out and back
Difficulty: Strenuous, 3,600’+ elevation gain
Cliffnote trail directions: Blue Mount Mitchell trail the whole way
Parking: Black Mountain Campground [50 Black Mountain Campground Road, Burnsville, NC 28714], alternately at the summit of Mount Mitchell State Park [2388 NC-128, Burnsville, NC 28714] – off of the Blue Ridge Parkway
The beginning of the hike is down a long gravel road. It is well maintained and my non-4WD had no trouble navigating it while driving slowly. There is no cell reception. Park across from the entrance of the campground and you will not have to pay any fees. Use the restroom in the facility and follow the well marked signage pointing towards Mount Mitchell. Always blazed in blue, this is the trail you will follow 5 ½ miles up to the summit.
Initially, the trail follows the Toe River for a brief and pleasant stroll.
Butterflies and wildflowers, mountain laurel and rhododendron, beautiful scenery to soothe your soul for what is coming.
The trail begins to pick up speed and switchbacks through the forest. At two miles there is an optional loop with the yellow blazed Higgins Bald trail which adds extra ¼ mile before rejoining the Mount Mitchell Trail. I would save the option for your way down to see how you’re feeling, for us the weather decided as it began to rain and thunder – no thanks! Carrying on we were happy to see a few red efts and snails.
It is quite some time before views appear, only snippets from holes cut out by power lines. After crossing a little stream complete with waterfall, I was shocked to see a perfect wild iris.
Flora changes drastically as you gain elevation.
I started to get chilly on the old logging road, don’t forget to pack layers. First signage appears after you have completed 4 miles, it was fantastic to know how much longer I had to climb.
From here you’ll know you’re close by the informational signs and amount of people you will encounter with clean and inappropriate shoes. The summit is accessible by vehicle, so people venture off onto the Balsam Nature trail which overlaps with the Mount Mitchell trail. Suddenly the forest gives way to a paved path and you can just about taste the summit.
Join those in jeans and flip flops taking your final steps to the summit, muddy and sweaty. The viewing platform is raised providing a panoramic view.
Most days are cloudy at the summit, views were limited, but it didn’t matter. We were pleased to have made it to the top of a worthy and enjoyed a picnic.
There is an exhibit hall, gift shop, and concession stand at the top, in case you forgot to pack a lunch! It is not the most difficulty mountain climb I have ever accomplished, but It was a great challenge and rewarding hike. Take the same route all the way back down.