Mount Mitchell is royalty in terms of mountains in the East. It’s the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in North Carolina, and east of the Mississippi. Bag this peak on a pleasant 13.1-mile out-and-back hike in the Pisgah National Forest and Mount Mitchell State Park and you'll score great views of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains from the summit tower.
While a road leads directly to a parking lot minutes from the summit, the best way to enjoy this mountain is by earning the view. Besides, the road is often closed in winter because of snow and ice.
The hike starts at Black Mountain Campground, where a parking area just before the actual campground accommodates day hikers. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is the way up, and it is well marked by blue and white blazes. Even though the trails gains over 3,600 feet in total vertical elevation, it is never technical or steep.
The first third of the hike is where most of the ascent is tackled. Numerous switchbacks help ease the way through vegetation that remains mostly open. After about 2 miles, an intersection leads to Higgins Bald where the remains of old cabins can be seen. Campsites and fire rings are also available.
The Higgins Bald and Mountain-to-Sea trails eventually meet again at 4,800 feet. Once again, the blue and white blazes will lead the way. From that intersection, the trail climbs steadily with a moderate grade until reaching the Commissary Ridge, where it flattens out. The summit of Mount Mitchell is then quickly reached.
As the summit is mostly treed in, a lookout tower has been built to allow a 360-degree view. Don’t miss the other Black Mountains to the north, most notably Mount Craig, the second highest east of the Mississippi; it can be reached via a 2-mile out-and-back side trip. Clingman’s Dome, Tennessee’s highpoint can also be seen in the distance. Maps located all around the lookout tower help identify the many summits visible.
From the summit of Mount Mitchell, the closest higher peaks are located in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Highland Foothills of Colorado.
Mount Mitchell's lookout tower is wheelchair accessible if driving to the summit.
Note: The Blue Ridge Parkway is often closed in winter, in which case the trailhead can be accessed through North Carolina Highway 80. Check the conditions here.