Nestled amongst the rolling hills of National Forests north of Asheville lies Mount Mitchell State Park, the first state park in the state of North Carolina. Mount Mitchell soars at 6,684 feet and is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. This Yancey County State Park was established by its state legislature in 1915 and was the park to inspire the North Carolina State Parks System. Before we go further, we need to acknowledge and honor the Native tribes this land belongs to -- the ?????? Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East) and S'atsoyaha (Yuchi).
Picnic Areas at Mount Mitchell State Park
A favorite pastime of residents and visitors is enjoying a meal in one of Mt. Mitchell's many picnic areas. There is a shady picnic area (open year-round) at the north end of the summit parking lot and two picnic shelters with fireplaces that can each accommodate up to 16 people. There are also 40 picnic tables throughout the park for first-come, first-serve use.
Hiking Trails at Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell offers 7 main trails for hikers to explore.
Deep Gap Trail
This 4.3-mile one-way hike starts at the picnic area found near the summit of Mt. Mitchell. It presents excellent views of the region, especially on a clear day. This challenging hike follows the ridge of the Black Mountains, crossing Mount Craig (the second highest peak in the state at 6,6,47) and Big Tom Mountain. Mount Craig is named after North Carolina governor Locke Craig. In contrast, Big Tom is named after Thomas Wilson, a famous hunter. The latter found Dr. Elisa Mitchell's body after he fell to his death in 1857.
Balsam Nature Trail
The Balsam Nature Trail is a short 0.75-mile loop hike that starts at the intersection of the Mount Mitchell Trail and ends at the observation tower summit parking lot. The tiny stream found on this trail is actually the highest spring in the country's eastern portion.
This 4-mile out-and-back trail begins at the park office and takes hikers along an old logging road that helped shape the Black Mountain Range.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail
A section of the 1175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses through the park. This North Carolina State Trail spans from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, stopping at great sites along the way.
Mount Mitchell Trail
This strenuous 6-mile (one way) trail is the main path hikers take to summit Mount Mitchell. Starting at the Black Mountain Campground and ending at the summit takes about 8 hours.
Camp Alice Trail
For a challenging hike, the 1-mile out-and-back Camp Alice Trail descends the south side of the mountain to an old logging camp that has been there since the early 1900s. Today, there are no remnants of the camp and desire its name. There is no camping allowed here.
Old Mitchell Trail
Used by colonizers in the mid-1850s, the Old Mitchell Trail is a 2.2-mile (one way) hiking trail that starts at the park office and heads to the summit. This trail is an easier way to reach the summit and offers wildlife sightings.
This quick and easy way to see the summit kicks off at the upper summit parking lot and leads to the observation deck at the summit. You can see 85 miles off the Blue Ridge Mountains and Pisgah National Forest on clear days.
Camping at Mount Mitchell State Park
For full details and campsite information, check online here. Mount Mitchell State Park offers tent camping and a 9-site family campsite (from May 1 to October 31). Restrooms are open during warm seasons, and showers and hot water are not provided. You must register on the forms available near the parking area or at the park office for those looking to backpack in the Pisgah National Forest. Leave the form on the dashboard of your car while in the backcountry. Black bears are common in the park -- read about bear awareness here.
Important Information for Visiting Mount Mitchell State Park
This western North Carolina State Park park is open year-round, except on Christmas Day. The museum is open from May to October (10:00 am to 6:00 pm). The on-site restaurant is closed through 2021 for renovations, but the gift shop and concession stand are open from May 3 to October 31 (9:30 am to 5:00 pm). The address is 2388 N.C. 128, Burnsville, NC 28714, and the phone number is 828-675-4611.