My hiking exploits in North Carolina and other regional adventures
Category: Strenuous Hikes
Hikes I’ve rated as strenuous or very strenuous due to very long mileage and/or significant sections of elevation gain throughout the hike. Can also be rated because of difficult-to-follow trail systems
Location:Burnsville, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (40 miles – 48 min) Charlotte (131 miles – 2 hours and 27 min) Raleigh (248 miles – 4 hours and 5 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.87772, -82.28627Trail Access:From Spruce Pine follow U.S. 19E for 12.9 miles and turn left onto N.C. 197. Drive 0.7 mile then turn left onto Bolens Creek Rd. Drive 2.5 miles to a tight right turn, the trailhead is at this turn and the better parking area is a pullout above a cemetery at the next turn.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Black Mountain Crest Trail – Deep Gap TrailHike Configuration: One-way shuttle hikeHike Distance:~12.4 miles Elevation Gain: 5,390 feetHiking Time:7 hours and 50 minutesDate of Hike:08-02-15, Sunday at 9:50 AMTrail Condition: Below Average — The trail to the meadows around Celo Knob is an old forest road and in good condition. Once you get close to Winter Star Mountain the trail becomes a footpath and rapidly deteriorates. It is eroded and rocky until you get close to the end below Mt. Mitchell. Hike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — The is one of the toughest hikes in North Carolina with a high amount of elevation gain for the mileage and lots of sun exposure without water access. Isolation:Above Average — You might not see any people for the first 8 miles of this hike except for the area around Horse Rock Meadows. Once you pass through Deep Gap the foot traffic picks up steadily until it becomes crowded from Mt. Craig to Mt. Mitchell. Highlights:One of the most rewarding hikes I’ve been on, there are huge views throughout the hike of all of the big mountains in North Carolina, bagging many 6,000+ foot peaks. Lowlights:Long and tiring approach to Celo Knob, poor trail condition for most of the hike, lack of views for a good chunk of the hike between Potato Hill and Mt. Craig.Google Photos album link
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.
Location:Sams Gap below I-26, NC/TN Distance from Hubs: Asheville (29 miles – 33 min) Charlotte (150 miles – 2 hours and 34 min) Knoxville (109 miles – 2 hours and 10 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.95238, -82.56080Trail Access:Follow I-26 north from Asheville and leave the interstate at exit 3. Head north on U.S. 23A for 3.1 miles and prior to passing under I-26 there is a parking area on the left. The Appalachian Trail is across the street on the right side of I-26.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~13.1 miles Elevation Gain: 3,270 feetHiking Time:6 hours and 15 minutesDate of Hike:01-16-16, Saturday at 11:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is a popular stretch of the Appalachian Trail and I found it in very good condition except for the section below Big Bald which was eroded.Hike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — For the mileage this is on the easy side of the scale. There are few stretches of strenuous elevation gain, the grades are mostly very forgiving. Isolation:Average — I doubt you’ll be in crowds of people because of the length of the hike, but I also doubt you’ll ever be alone considering its appeal and access. It’s hard for me to judge considering the weather, but I saw at least 10 people anyways. Highlights:Beautiful trail through hardwood forests, delightful mix of rime ice on trees and shrubs, icy wonderland at the summit Lowlights:Really the obvious lowlight was the constant cloud cover, I didn’t get the views I expectedGoogle Photos album link
My plan was to hike to Big Bald, supposedly one of the finest of all the grassy balds in the southern Appalachian Mountains. If you can get a sunny day in the winter, nothing beats crystal clear views from an open summit. There’s just too much haze in the summer to compare. The forecast started with clouds in the morning, clearing out for sun after noon in the low 40s °F with a light wind. As I drove north on Interstate 26 from Asheville I was beginning to doubt the veracity of the NOAA forecast. Usually they’re spot on, but as I approached Sams Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border all I could see was a low cloud ceiling covering every peak. Big Bald, at 5,516 feet, is the tallest summit of the Bald Mountains along the state border and the tallest mountain on the Appalachian Trail for 148 miles. It requires a long hike from either direction. Sams Gap is the typical hike since it is located right off the interstate. I expected beautiful scenery every step of the way, but what I got was an icy wintry wonderland and an unforgettable experience.
Location:Elk Mountain Scenic Highway junction with Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (8.6 miles – 20 min) Charlotte (131 miles – 2 hours and 11 min) Raleigh (249 miles – 3 hours and 52 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.66439, -82.47912Trail Access:Follow N.C. 694 north from Asheville for 6.3 miles until it ends at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left on the parkway and drive 1.6 miles to the junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway on the left. You can park at the pullout on the parkway or on the sides of Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses the highway at this junction. Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~11.3 miles Elevation Gain: 2,960 feetHiking Time:5 hours and 30 minutesDate of Hike:04-03-16, Sunday at 12:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is an excellent section of the Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — There are a couple of sections of steep climbs, but everything else felt easier than the elevation gain suggests. Isolation:Average — You will encounter quite a few hikers around Rattlesnake Lodge, however they disappear beyond the lodge which was confounding to me. Highlights:Historical remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, beautiful sections of the MST including the high ridgeline, view from Lane Pinnacle Lowlights:I was hoping that Rattlesnake Lodge would be a cabin, not enough open views from the trail although I missed a big view just beyond Lane PinnacleGoogle Photos album link
How do you end a hazy bachelor party weekend in Asheville? With a hike of course! It was the first weekend of April, and I was staying in Asheville with my friends Friday through Sunday. We had to vacate the house before noon on Sunday, and everyone was leaving town anyways. The weather was perfect for a hike, sunny with no clouds and cold but no wind. My body and mind weren’t perfect for a hike, but I went ahead with it anyways. I decided to drive northeast on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Craggy Gardens, a place I never get to because of drive time. I did no research beforehand, and had only brought a couple of maps and books in my car for reference. Unfortunately the parkway was still closed because of Tanbark Ridge Tunnel construction, or because it was still winter at the high elevations. I had a backup in mind, and it fortunately started at the road closure. Here the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) crosses the parkway at the T-junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. From here my plan was to hike east towards the historic remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, then ascend a high ridgeline in the western Great Craggy Mountains to Lane Pinnacle at 5,230 feet. This was not a bad backup plan, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this section of the MST.
Location:Buck Creek Gap, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (45 miles – 1 hour and 2 min) Charlotte (112 miles – 2 hours and 5 min) Raleigh (229 miles – 3 hours and 43 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.77032, -82.16414Trail Access:From the U.S. 221/U.S. 70 intersection in Marion, drive west on U.S. 70 for 1.8 miles and turn right onto NC 80. Drive north on NC 80 for 12.1 miles and park at the Singecat Ridge Overlook just below the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Woods Mountain TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~12.6 miles Elevation Gain: 3,300 feetHiking Time:6 hoursDate of Hike:03-16-16, Wednesday at 11:00 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — Other than an eroded section near Woods Mountain this trail is in very good condition, likely because the MST has been routed along the massif. Hike Difficulty:Strenuous — A surprising amount of elevation gain for the mileage and elevation of this mountain. It goes up and down ridgelines hundreds of feet at a time. Isolation:Very High — I would be surprised if you see other hikers on this trail Highlights:Great views of the Armstrong Creek watershed, trail is in very good condition Lowlights:Much more difficult than I predicted, not enough views to warrant the long hikeGoogle Photos album link
Although sandwiched between the Blue Ridge Parkway and U.S. 221, the Woods Mountain Trail sees few travelers. There are a lot of reasons people skip right by this trail despite being part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). Linville Gorge lies to the east while the Black Mountains lie to the west. Both are very popular destinations. The MST follows the Woods Mountain Trail for 6 miles along this east-west massif. Woods Mountain is part of the area that constitutes the first purchase of national forest lands established on the east coast. Even though this was the first tract of Pisgah National Forest, this vast area from Armstrong Creek southwest to Jarrett Creek has largely been neglected by the forest service and hikers over the years. Many of the trails have been abandoned. I’ve hiked trails in the western portion of this region, including Heartbreak Ridge and Snook’s Nose, but this is the first time I’ve explored Woods Mountain. This section has been designated an Inventoried Roadless Area and is also being considered for Wilderness designation. It sure feels like wilderness when you leave the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and follow the Woods Mountain Trail east. If not for the MST designation and blazes, one could get easily lost in this area since a vast network of forgotten trails crisscross the ridgelines. I knew there was a good view shortly into the hike of the Armstrong Creek watershed, but beyond that I had no clue what I was going to see. Ultimately I wanted to hike the full length of the Woods Mountain Trail and check out the eastern summit which houses the remains of a former fire tower.
Location:South Mountains State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (72 miles – 1 hour and 17 min) Charlotte (63 miles – 1 hour and 19 min) Raleigh (198 miles – 3 hours and 8 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.60236, -81.62917Trail Access:This is a confusing park to get to via maps and GPS directions. Just insert 3001 South Mountain Park, Connelly Springs, NC 28612 into your GPS and try not to get lost!South Mountains State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:River Trail – Raven Rock Trail – Benn Knob Trail – Lower CCC Trail – Fox Trail – Jacob Branch Trail – Upper Falls Trail – High Shoals Falls Loop Trail – Hemlock Nature TrailHike Distance:~16.1 miles Hike Configuration: Loop Elevation Gain: 3,261 feetHiking Time:7 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:06-04-16, Saturday at 10:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — Almost all trails are forest roads in good shape. The few hikers’ only trails are also in good shape.Hike Difficulty:Strenuous — There are few extended climbs other than the initial ascent on the Raven Rock Trail. This is mainly strenuous due to length. Isolation:Above Average — This is an average of isolation being very high for the majority of the hike while anywhere near the waterfall you’ll always see people year-round. Highlights:Immaculately maintained trails, manmade views from various trails where there are no natural views, secluded campsites Lowlights:Forest roads get monotonous after a while, long section on paved road, views few and far between, way too many people at High Shoals Falls and surrounding areaGoogle Photos album link
South Mountains State Park is a great area for exploration and gear testing in a relatively calm environment. The trails are immaculate, and are mostly former forest roads built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are signs and blazes everywhere, it is impossible to get lost unless you really try. There are frontcountry and backcountry options for hikers of various physical fitness levels. It is also one of my fallback options when the weather doesn’t look so good in the bigger mountains ranges of western North Carolina. The South Mountains lie east of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a smaller, separate mountain range with peaks ranging between 2,000-3,000 feet. The state park is the largest in North Carolina, and that doesn’t include the vast South Mountains Game Land to the west. This is a huge area and much of the interior of this mountain range feels very wild and remote. On my previous two trips (including my recent post about High Shoals Falls) I did smaller loops that didn’t quite reach the state park interior boundary. My goal was to do the full southern perimeter of the state park which included peakbagging Benn Knob, one of the tallest peaks in the South Mountains. Since this hike either follows Jacob Fork or the ridges surrounding the headwaters, I dubbed this hike Jacob Fork Rim. I wasn’t sure what else to call it since I hiked so many different trails on this one big loop.
Location:Old Fort, Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (27 miles – 30 min) Charlotte (109 miles – 1 hour and 44 min) Raleigh (226 miles – 3 hours and 21 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.61324, -82.23087Trail Access:Get off I-40 at exit 73 in Old Fort. If you eastbound turn right before reaching the main road. If you are heading west pass under I-40 and turn right onto the east exit ramp, immediately turn left onto Catawba River Rd. Drive 3.1 miles to the parking lot.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Catawba Falls TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~3.9 miles Elevation Gain: 863 feetHiking Time:2 hours and 35 minutesDate of Hike:12-20-2015, Sunday at 10:30 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — The trail all the way up to Catawba Falls is in excellent shape. Everything beyond that is not a complete trail, and is in bad condition.Hike Difficulty:Easy — The trail is almost flat to Catawba Falls, on a well-graded forest road. Following my full hike is not what I would classify as strenuous, but instead technically difficult. Isolation:Very Low — Consider the location, accessibility, and name recognition of these waterfalls. This had decent crowds mid-winter and I’ve heard it is packed all summer. Highlights:Two easily accessible, beautiful waterfalls and one very difficult-to-reach but amazing waterfall all within a few short miles from the interstate. Lowlights:I’m being picky here, the “trail” to Upper Catawba Falls is dangerous and a spot for terrible erosion. Also the crowds on warmer days. Google Photos album link
If you love waterfalls and want the best bang for your buck, then visiting Catawba Falls should be at the top of your list. Thankfully the Foothills Conservancy and eventually the US Forest Service saved access to these waterfalls from private development. Now, this easy trail is one of the most popular in the region due to its beauty and ease of access beside Interstate 40. There are 3 waterfalls along a short stretch of the Catawba River. Despite being one of the largest rivers in North Carolina, here it is no more than your average mountain creek. The trail follows forest roads that previously provided access to an old hydroelectric facility. It is an easy 3 mile hike (round trip) to see Lower Catawba Falls and the spectacularly high Catawba Falls. At this point most hikers turn around, but a steep, hazardous scramble trail climbs to the top of Catawba Falls providing access to the picturesque Upper Catawba Falls. It is worth the effort if you are sure-footed, otherwise I’m sure you’ll be satisfied with Catawba Falls.
Location:Big Creek Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (55 miles – 1 hour and 2 min) Charlotte (169 miles – 2 hours and 49 min) Knoxville (67 miles – 1 hour and 4 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.75094, -83.11004Trail Access:Heading west on I-40 to the NC-TN border, take exit 451 after crossing into Tennessee and turn left. Continue under I-40 and turn left crossing the Pigeon River, then immediately turn left onto Waterville Rd. Follow Waterville Rd 2.0 miles to the park entrance. The road name becomes Big Creek Rd at the park border, follow the gravel road 0.9-mi to the parking area.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Chestnut Branch Trail – Appalachian Trail – Mount Cammerer Trail – Appalachian Trail – Low Gap Trail – Big Creek TrailHike Distance:~17.8 miles Hike Configuration: Big Loop Elevation Gain: 4,360 feetHiking Time:7 hours and 50 minutesDate of Hike:05-28-16, Saturday at 11:00 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — The trails are in mostly excellent condition with the exception of the Low Gap Trail which is rocky but still much better than your average trail. Hike Difficulty:Strenuous — The initially climb is tough on the Chestnut Branch Trail. The Appalachian Trail is a more gradual climb. The rest of the day is downhill on rocks. The length more than the gradient makes this a difficult hike. Isolation:Low — I was rarely alone on this hike but that was partially due to the day I picked. On other weekends you may get a little more solitude in sections but the mountain is a popular trek all year. Highlights:Beautiful forest along Appalachian Trail, panoramic vistas from Mt. Cammerer, cascades on Big Creek Lowlights:Virtually no solitude, very rocky Low Gap Trail, Midnight Hole was far too crowded to enjoyGoogle Photos album link
You may find this hard to believe, but I’ve never had an overwhelming desire to hike in the Smokies. Our treasured national park attracts the most visitors per year of any national park in the country. Hovering just under 11 million per year, that is a lot of people. That means a lot of car traffic, a lot of confused tourists, overcrowded parking areas, and a lot of crowded trails. In fact I see the national park as a perfect magnetic field pulling tourists away from my favorite hiking areas in Pisgah National Forest. However, I’ve been banging out hikes in a 4-hour radius for years and new spots are drying up. It was time to revisit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the first time since I was 9 years old. I wanted something with waterfalls and views, and preferably a loop hike. I settled on the Big Creek region because it was close to I-40 and offered two big loops to Mt. Cammerer and Mt. Sterling, and would include at least one waterfall. Both mountains have lookout towers and thus are prized peaks by peakbaggers.
For some ridiculous reason I chose to do this the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, which meant the parking lots and trails were packed. I ended up choosing the Mt. Cammerer loop because I thought it would be easier and more scenic. My plan was to hike the Chestnut Branch Trail west to connect with the Appalachian Trail where I would head south to the Mount Cammerer Trail. After visiting the historic lookout tower I would continue south on the Appalachian Trail connecting with the Low Gap Trail. This trail descends towards Walnut Bottoms where it meets Big Creek where I could take the flat Big Creek Trail back to the parking lot passing by Mouse Creek Falls and Midnight Hole. It was a long but fantastic hike and I am itching to get back to the park as soon as possible.
Location:Roan Highlands, Pisgah & Cherokee National Forest, NC-TN Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (232 miles – 4 hours and 4 min) Charlotte (137 miles – 2 hours and 33 min) Asheville (65 miles – 1 hour and 27 min) Trail Access:Drive west on U.S. 19E from Elk Park for 6.8 mi then turn south on TN-143 driving 12.6 mi to parking at Carver’s Gap. The Appalachian Trail crosses the parking area.HikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian Trail north and south – Grassy Ridge Bald Trail side trip on the returnHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 4,760 feetHike Distance:~19.3 miles Hiking Time: 9 hours and 15 minutes Date of Hike: 04-05-15, Sunday at 10:00 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — The first section along Round Bald is in great shape, but the trail condition quickly devolves beyond that and is trenched on many of the inclines due to traffic and lack of maintenanceHike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — The difficulty is due to overall length and not steepness. There are tough climbs up Hump Mountain, south up Grassy Ridge Bald, and north out of Yellow Mountain Gap, but none are brutally steep or technical Isolation:Average — Ease of access and Appalachian Trail means this is not for solitude, but you will see surprisingly few people beyond Grassy Ridge Bald because of the distance Highlights:What aren’t the highlights? Round Bald, Jane Bald, Grassy Ridge Bald, Little Hump Mountain & Hump Mountain. This is one of the finest collections of balds and views I’ve seen in the Southeast Lowlights:Muddy trail down Grassy Ridge Bald, lots of trenching and erosionGoogle+ photo album link
There were less than 15 cars parked at Carver’s Gap which I took to be a great sign. Originally I thought there would be more people hiking today. It was beautiful outside and just past 11:00 AM. When I stepped out of my car, I felt a chilling gust and immediately questioned my clothing for the hike. A couple of days prior I had seen the weather should be mid-50s and sunny and failed to check the weather the night before. Even with clear skies it was definitely in the 40s and the wind was blowing steadily. All I had were shorts, T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, pullover fleece, and my hoody I wore in the car. I made the conscious decision to bring all of my layers even though the hoody added a lot of extra weight. This reminded me that even if Spring is here, the wind and elevation can still make a hike quite cold. It had been years since I last visited the Roan Highlands, arguably the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail in the Southeast. (I would personally claim Mt. Rogers as a solid 2nd place). During my last trip I backpacked to the Overmountain Shelter, day hiked to Hump Mountain, and returned the same day to Carver’s Gap. This time I was essentially doing the same trip, in one day. Not one section of this hike is extremely strenuous or technical, but it still covers more than 19 miles and that is always a tough undertaking no matter what kind of topography you encounter. I think I planned this perfectly excluding my clothing choices. And the thing about the Roan Highlands is they are freakin’ beautiful. Once you are hiking atop these open grass summits you seem to forget how many miles and how much climbing you have done. With these kind of temperatures and the lengthening Spring days it is easy to cover many miles. If you live in the Southeast you have to put this hike on your list, even if you can’t cover everything I did here.
Location:Linville Gorge Wilderness, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (219 miles – 3 hours and 37 min) Charlotte (103 miles – 1 hour and 59 min) Asheville (66 miles – 1 hour and 23 min) Trail Access:From NC-181 turn south on Ginger Cake Rd, the road is a loop. If you are coming from the north take a right on the second Ginger Cake Rd. If you are coming from the south take a left on the first Ginger Cake Rd. After 0.3-mi veer left at a Y-split onto Table Rock Rd. Drive 2.4-mi and look for Sitting Bear Trail on the right.Click here for more information on Linville GorgeHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Sitting Bear Trail – Jonas Ridge Trail – Devil’s Hole Trail – Sitting Bear TrailHike Configuration: Out and back from Jonas Ridge Trail Elevation Gain: 1,280 feetHike Distance:~3.1 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours Date of Hike: 03-15-15, Saturday at 3:15 PMTrail Condition: Average — Very rocky in the middle stretch, otherwise not too badHike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous— For the short mileage this is a steep trail that will punish you on the way out Isolation:High — Compared to the peaks around this area this trail doesn’t seem to have much traffic Highlights:Intimidating cliff walls surrounding Linville River Lowlights:Very rocky in stretches, no discernible trail to the river leads to bouldering down creek Combined with Hawksbill Mountain and Sitting Bear MountainElevation Gain: 3,078 feet Distance:~8.5 miles Time: 6 hours Difficulty:Very StrenuousGoogle+ photo album link
Devil’s Hole lies deep within Linville Gorge, a beautiful stretch along Linville River hemmed in by steep bluffs and soaring cliffs. Most people use the Sitting Bear Trail to access the high points along Jonas Ridge, but you can also venture deep below the east rim on this rugged trail. Devil’s Hole Trail immediately dives off the ridge and traverses a boulder field before following a tiny but beautiful stream as it plunges towards the river. There is an excellent campsite at the end of the trail but to get down to the river you’ll have to boulder down the last 100 feet of the stream. On this beautiful Saturday I decided to tack on Devil’s Hole Trail after my hikes along Jonas Ridge Trail to Hawksbill Mountain and Sitting Bear Mountain, which proved to be more strenuous than I imagined. If you want to visit Devil’s Hole then consider it as part of a trip to Hawksbill Mountain or Sitting Bear Mountain, but maybe not both.
Location:Black Mountain Campground, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (234 miles – 4 hours and 3 min) Charlotte (117 miles – 2 hours and 24 min) Asheville (49.9 miles – 1 hour and 20 min) Trail Access:If you are coming from the south or east you will be taking NC-80 north from Marion. After passing under the Blue Ridge Parkway at Buck Creek Gap, go 2.2 mi northwest on NC-80 and turn left on S. Toe River Rd. Drive 2.8 mi on the gravel road and you will enter Black Mountain Campground. On the left is a hiker’s parking area and trail information map. The hike starts here, crossing the river on a road bridge towards the campgrounds.
Click here for information provided by the USDAon theBlack Mountain Campgroundand theMt. Mitchell TrailHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Briar Bottom Group Campground Road – Mt. Mitchell Trail (Mountains-to-Sea Trail except for the Higgins Bald Trail section) – Higgins Bald Trail + Mountains-to-Sea Trail on the returnHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 3,684 feetHike Distance:~12.0 miles Hiking Time: 6 hours and 30 minutes Date of Hike: 01-17-15, Saturday at 10:00 AMTrail Condition: Average — Most of the trail is eroded with many exposed rocks and roots. In the national forest section the condition is above average but in the high elevations in the state park the trail is heavily eroded and in poor condition.Hike Difficulty: Strenuous — The trail continuously climbs almost 6 miles to the summit but the elevation gain is rarely more than 700 ft/mi. There are never steep sections that can tire you quickly, the difficulty of this trail is slightly overrated in this regard since there are much tougher trails in the region. Isolation:Above average — I saw multiple groups of hikers on this beautiful, sunny day. I suspect on the weekends you will always see some hikers attempting this difficult but popular trail. Although due to its length and difficulty it will never be crowded. Highlights:Ice sheets provided unique photo opportunities, large stand of spruce-fir forest, 360° panoramas from Mt. Mitchell observation tower with incredible visibility Lowlights:Heavily eroded trail in the state park section, no clear indication of waterfall along Higgins Bald Trail even though multiple guide books indicate one, few views on the way up except for the power line clearanceGoogle+ photo album link
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.