One hundred years ago this month, a bill passed the state legislature to make Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet, the first state park in North Carolina. In 1835, Grandfather Mountain was thought to be the highest point in the region. However, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, professor at the University of North Carolina, performed measurements that convinced him that the Black Mountains were taller. Mitchell studied barometric pressure readings and used mathematical formulas to determine that the highest point in the range was 6,476 feet, which was taller than Grandfather Mountain. Dr. Mitchell returned to perform more measurements and calculations in 1838 and 1844 and determined the highest peak was 6,672 feet – only a 12 foot difference from modern measurements! The mountain was named after Dr. Mitchell in 1858, one year after he fell off a cliff above a 40-foot waterfall there and drowned in the river below. His body is buried at Mt. Mitchell, right beside the observation deck on the summit.
Mount Mitchell is located in the Black Mountain range, approximately 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville. There are lots of fun activities at Mount Mitchell State Park, from hiking, camping and picnicking to birding and just enjoying the plantlife and views. Our favorite hiking trails are the Deep Gap Trail, Balsam Trail, and the Mount Mitchell Trail. Deep Gap and Balsam are relatively easy, and the Mount Mitchell trail is longer and more strenuous. The park is open year round, as long as there is no ice or snow on the roads. The museum, restaurant, and concession stand will reopen on May 1.
Our Tips for Visiting Mount Mitchell:
- Bring a jacket or an extra layer of clothes. Temperatures are usually 10-30 degrees cooler than in Asheville. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Take rain gear along if you are hiking.
- Eight out of ten days, the summit is covered in clouds and fog. Watch the weather, and try to visit when skies are very clear in Asheville.
- Allow plenty of driving time to reach Mt. Mitchell (at least one hour from Asheville). The entrance is from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the traffic can be slow, especially on the weekends.
- The park is open every day, year-round, however sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway close during much of the winter between Asheville and Mt. Mitchell. During most of the winter, the only route is taking the Parkway south from NC Highway 80. The restaurant, exhibit hall and gift shop are open May through October. Admission is free.
- Call the Park office at 828-675-4611 to check winter road conditions.
Happy 100th birthday! Read more about Mount Mitchell State Park