Black Mountain Crest Trail – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

North view from Mt. Craig of the jagged crest of the Black Mountains
North view from Mt. Craig of the jagged crest of the Black Mountains

The Black Mountain Crest Trail is one of the most renowned and intimidating hikes in North Carolina. Located in the Appalachian Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, the trail crosses the crest of the Black Mountains across five 6,000+ foot peaks culminating in the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River, Mt. Mitchell. This trek is on almost every bucket list for hikers who live in North Carolina, but it is very difficult and a logistical challenge. Hiking it in one direction requires a shuttle and is tough. Hiking the trail in both directions is over 24 miles and 8,000 feet elevation gain, which is difficult for even strong hikers. You’ll encounter steep grades, continuous sun and wind exposure at elevations above 6,000 feet, and a lack of water throughout the entire length of the trail. If you try this, be mentally and physically prepared for the challenge. The views from the Black Mountains are spectacular and definitely worth the exhaustion. You can see most of the state’s notable peaks and mountain ranges in every direction on clear days. The Black Mountain Crest Trail is one of my favorite hikes in North Carolina, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart.

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Mt. Mitchell Trail – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

Mt. Craig and northern Black Mountains
Mt. Craig and northern Black Mountains

The Mt. Mitchell Trail has been beckoning me for years, and I had always wanted to hike it during the winter to get the full mountain experience. The weather was supposed to be sunny but bitterly cold and windy on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, which sounded perfect to me because visibility would be outstanding. I woke up extremely early on Saturday and drove to the Black Mountain Campground in Pisgah National Forest to begin my ascent. The Mt. Mitchell Trail is one of few trails in the mountains of North Carolina that boasts many similarities to a summit trail out West or in the Northeast. It starts deep in the South Toe River Valley far below the Black Mountain range and climbs unrelentingly for 5.5 miles to the summit. As you climb you’ll experience a multitude of ecosystems as the forest changes from Appalachian and northern hardwood forests to dense rhododendron and mountain laurel to tall pines and eventually the rare southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest near the summit. Mt. Mitchell, standing at  6,684 feet, is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains and the eastern United States. You can drive to the summit, mill around the visitor’s center and stroll a few hundred yards to the observation platform before leaving. Or you can conquer this peak the old-fashioned way by hiking the Mt. Mitchell Trail.

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Maple Camp Bald and Mt. Mitchell – Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

 

Northern Blacks from Mt. Craig
Northern Blacks from Mt. Craig

I had never been to the Black Mountains before this trip. They lie in that spot that takes forever to drive to from Chapel Hill. It’s unfortunate because they are beautiful areas and the tallest mountains on the East Coast, and inevitably I have to hike there. My mind was set, I was going to wake up really early and drive the 4 hours and figure out what trail I wanted to hike. It was mid-June and prime rhododendron blooming season. I figured my first choice would be Mt. Mitchell, but if it is socked in by clouds I would keep driving to Craggy Gardens and walk amongst the flowers. I took my roommate Rachel along for the long ride. As we entered the park the clouds were swirling, but I had faith in the NOAA forecast that it would clear up because it was sunny below these mountains. We ended up hiking Commissary Ridge to Maple Camp Bald, then bushwhacking up to the Deep Gap Trail to summit the two tallest mountains on the east coast – Mt. Craig and Mt. Mitchell. The view from Mt. Mitchell was great as expected, but the views from Maple Camp Bald and Mt. Craig were better. The only problem is that connecting Maple Camp Bald with the crest to make a loop hike is a difficult endeavor requiring a bushwhack up the mountain.

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