Everything You Need to Know about Mt. Mitchell: A Beginner’s Guide

Standing majestically above all other surrounding peaks, Mount Mitchell is an incredible location to visit for scenic views, hiking, picnicking, and camping. Continue reading for:

  • Mount Mitchell at a Glance
  • Mount Mitchell History & Geography
  • Mount Mitchell Climate, Vegetation, & Wildlife
  • Mount Mitchell Activities & Events
  • Camping near Mount Mitchell
  • Trails & Hikes near Mount Mitchell
  • Seasonal Access & Safety

Everything You Need to Know about Mt. Mitchell: A Beginner’s Guide

Mount Mitchell at a Glance:

Elevation: 6,684 ft

Location: Mount Mitchell State Park, Yancey County, NC

Notable Features: Highest US peak east of the Mississippi River

Observation deck, museum, and giftshop at summit accessible by foot (hiking) or car (via Blue Ridge Parkway)

Park Hours: Open everyday at 7:00am except Christmas Day. Closing time varies by season.

Park Fees: There are no entrance or parking fees at Mount Mitchell State Park.


Mount Mitchell History & Geography

Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in eastern mainland North America and the highest peak of the Appalachian Mountains (6,684 feet in elevation). The nearest higher peak is Lone Butte in Colorado. The range containing Mount Mitchell was formed during the Alleghanian orogeny between 325–260 million years ago. Originally known as Black Dome for its wide, rounded shape, the summit was named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell, the first Westerner to explore the Black Mountain subrange of the Appalachians in 1835. The distance between the endpoints of this J-shaped range (Yeates Knob and Celo Knob) is only 15 miles.

Mount Mitchell is protected by its namesake state park, one of the first national parks in America (est. 1915). The park, which includes a museum, observation deck, and network of trails and campsites, is accessible via a 4.6-mile road off of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

Mount Mitchell is located near Burnsville, NC and only 19 miles from the regional hub of Asheville, NC.


Mount Mitchell Climate, Vegetation, & Wildlife

Average Summer Temperature: 65.9°F (18.8°C)

Average Winter Temperature: 17.0°F (-8.3°C)

Mount Mitchell is characterized as a humid continental climate, bordering on subalpine, with mild summers and long, moderately cold winters. The peak is covered in a dense conifer forest of native red spruce and Fraser fir, which is especially lush and green throughout the summer. Wildflowers are abundant through the warm months, and native birds feed on wild blackberry and blueberry shrubs. Bears can sometimes be seen along hiking trails and near campgrounds, so keeping clean camps and disposing of waste properly is advised.

Precipitation on the summit of Mount Mitchell is frequent due to its elevation and averages 74.7 inches/year (190cm). Heavy winds can also be prohibitive, with gusts recorded at 178 mph (286 km/h).

At its high elevation, however, the flora of Mount Mitchell is also exposed to high levels of pollution, mainly in the form of acid precipitation. Combined with a non-native insect infestation in the second half of the twentieth century, many of the mature firs were killed and the stumps can be seen more readily in the winter months.

Despite these hardships, “the flora of Mount Mitchell remains among the most distinctive and diverse in the Southern Appalachians.” Additional vegetation includes red spruce, fire cherry, yellow birch, mountain ash, mountain maple, mountain raspberry, red elder, and bush honeysuckle. Keen observers can also spot northern flying squirrels, saw-whet owls, white-tailed deer, striped skunk, bobcats, or gray foxes. Visit the park office for a complete plant and animal checklist.


Mount Mitchell Activities & Events

Mount Mitchell State Park offers a variety of activities, shopping, dining, and learning opportunities for nature lovers of all ages. See the park reservation website for information about reserving picnic shelters, the summit classroom, or lounge.


Mount Mitchell Observation Deck

The pinnacle of Mount Mitchell’s attractions is the awe-inspiring observation deck at the summit of the mountain. The deck is easily accessible via a quarter-mile paved trail. From the deck on clear days, visitors have unobstructed 360-degree, 85-mile views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Originally buried in Asheville, Dr. Elisha Mitchell was interred atop Mount Mitchell in 1858, a year after his death. His grave is visible from the summit.


Mount Mitchell Education Center

Learn about the history and ecology of Mount Mitchell directly from park rangers in their fully equipped classroom. Developed for grades 4–6, available educational materials introduce students to “the forest types of the Blue Ridge Mountains, focusing on the potential causes for forest decline in the mountains and at Mount Mitchell.” Most events are free, though some require pre-registration. View the park events calendar for more info.


Mount Mitchell Museum

See how Mount Mitchell measures up against the east coast’s highest peaks at the 1,385-square-foot exhibit hall located near the mountain’s summit. Hands-on and replica exhibits offer visitors insight into Mount Mitchell’s natural and cultural history. The museum is open daily May–October.


Mount Mitchell Concession Stand & Gift Shop

Light snacks, like local cider and candies, can be purchased at the concession stand adjacent to the summit parking lot. The nextdoor gift shop offers crafts, books, and other keepsakes to remember your visit. Both locations are open daily, 10:00am–6:00pm, from May–October.


Mount Mitchell Restaurant

Hungry hikers and tourists need not go far to enjoy a relaxing meal and scenic views. The Mount Mitchell restaurant is located approximately half a mile from the park office. It offers a lodge-like space with simple American fare, including burgers and sandwiches. The restaurant is open 10:00am until one hour before park closing, May–October.


Camping near Mount Mitchell

Between the park office and summit, Mount Mitchell State Park maintains nine family campsites for tent-only camping. Each site is equipped with a grill and picnic table. Campgrounds and adjacent restrooms (no showers or hot water) are open from May 1–October 31. Visitors may also leave their vehicles in the park overnight to backpack into the Pisgah National Forest as long as they register on the forms provided at the trailheads near the parking area or at the park office.


Trails & Hikes near Mount Mitchell

Mount Mitchell State Park is a wonderful location for a variety of outdoor activities, including short strolls or more extensive hikes. The park has an extensive trail network, including entry onto the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

Remember to wear appropriate clothing and carry proper gear—the high altitude means Mount Mitchell and surrounding areas can be chilly year round. See additional park rules about hiking and bear safety.

Current Weather Conditions: nchighpeaks.org


Balsam Nature Trail

Length: 0.75 miles, round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Description: Self-guided nature trail from Mount Mitchell Trail to mountain summit. Features the highest spring in the eastern U.S.


Camp Alice Trail

Length: 0.50 miles, one way

Difficulty: Strenuous

Description: Intersects Old Mitchell Trail 1/4 mile from summit and descends south to Camp Alice, remains of a lodging camp from the early 1900s.


Commissary Trail

Length: 2.00 miles, one way

Difficulty: Easy

Description: From the park office, follow an old logging railroad bed from the early 1900s. After logging was prohibited, railroads brought tourists into the mountains.


Deep Gap Trail

Length: 4.30 miles, one way

Difficulty: Strenuous

Description: Begin near the picnic area at the mountain summit across the crests of Mount Craig and Big Tom Mountain.


Mt Mitchell Trail

Length: 6.00 miles, one way

Difficulty: Strenuous

Description: Start at the Black Mountain Campground and climb to the summit of Mount Mitchell. Requires 4.5 hours to the top and 3.5 to return.


Old Mitchell Trail

Length: 2.20 miles, one way

Difficulty: Strenuous

Description: Used by explorers as early as the 1840s, this was the primary trail for reaching Mount Mitchell into the early 1900s.


Summit Trail

Length: 0.25 miles, one way

Difficulty: Easy

Description: The short, paved trail from the upper summit parking lot to the summit observations platform.

 

Read more about trails near Mount Mitchell.


Seasonal Access & Safety

Mount Mitchell State Park is scheduled to be open every day of the year except Christmas Day. The park is accessible by hiking, backpacking, or via a 4.6-mile road off of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Park accommodations, including campsites, museum, gift shop, and restaurant, are open May–October. Accessibility by car in colder months is subject to the Blue Ridge Parkway’s opening hours.

Because of its elevation, Mount Mitchell and surrounding areas can be chilly, even in summer. Hikers should wear appropriate clothing and carry proper gear. See additional park rules about hiking and bear safety.

For park alerts, updates, or directions, visit ncparks.gov/mount-mitchell-state-park.

 
 

 

2 Responses to “Everything You Need to Know about Mt. Mitchell: A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. Mark Wooley

    Mt. Mitchell should have a plaque and a map of the USA delineating longitude 103W. To say it is the highest point east of the Mississippi is giving this mountain short shrift. I have researched this and it is the highest point east of longitude 103W. There are a few mountains in the Black Hills and west Texas that hit 7000-8000ft. but they are west of longitude 103W.
    Please consider this!

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