My wife and I hiked from Black Mountain Campground to the Mount Mitchell Summit on 05/19. – it’s one of the most popular trails in the state of North Carolina, pretty much entirely because Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the Appalachian Range, and the highest point in the US east of the Mississippi river.
The trailhead can be tough to find. It’s on a gravel road that isn’t very well marked; you may not see something until you’re already on top of it. Additionally, cell service is lacking in the area; make sure you download maps – for your car and maybe also for your hike – before you leave.
Once you’re on the trail, though, it’s very easy to follow. It’s well-used and well-marked, with blue diamond blazes leading the way. I typically use the Hiking Project app to navigate when hiking, even on well-marked trails. This time, however, no such navigation was needed. There were very few intersections with other trails, and the entire way to the summit may have been the most well-marked trail I’ve ever been on.
We started around 10 AM after a rainy night; the ground was wet but not muddy.
The views were great, even though there were not a ton of lookouts over the first 4 miles, but there are plenty of things to look at if you’re into plants. Had a great time looking at new types of trees and moss that I hadn’t seen before.
Slope is not hard at all, even as you near the top. Gradual uphill, definitely will get your heart rate up but it won’t kill your knees. No scrambling, just lots of rocks and roots.
Only saw a few other hikers the entire way up. Mount Mitchell trail overlaps with the mountains to sea trail, so you may come across a few backpackers on section hikes as we did. The summit is flooded with people, though, most of them having driven up on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Even on a cloudy day, the summit did afford us some visual treats. The highest elevation east of the Mississippi offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, and there are a lot.
We ate lunch at the top, listening to loud old men explain the difference between Google Maps and Waze to other loud old men.
The way down was brutal, really tough on the knees.
Every rock and root that made it so fun to hike up made me wish more and more that I hadn’t forgotten my tylenol. Miles 7-10 were okay, but the pain in my knees grew every time we hit another mile marker. By the time we were two miles from the bottom, I was in enough pain that I wanted nothing more than to be done.
Aside from a few 5-minute breaks and a 20 minute lunch at the top, the entire trip took just over 5 hours. I like to hike fast – the physical challenge of the hike is a big part of the appeal for me, and I get a kick out of seeing the mile times on my watch. If you’re more of a leisurely hiker (I am well aware that my speed obsession puts me in the annoying minority) this hike will take 6-7 hours. Even with all the knee pain, it’s well worth it to stand on top of the highest point east of the Mississippi River!