Mountain Hike Vacation in North Carolina
The Mountain Hiker Rating: 7 out of 10
- Contributor: MGF
- Time required: 5 – 7 hours round trip
- Degree of Difficulty: 8 out of 10
- Height: 6,684 feet (2,037 meters) / Actual vertical of trail is approximately 3,660 feet (1,115m), as the trailhead begins around 3,020 feet (920m) above sea level
- Distance: Just under 12 miles (18 km) round trip
- Guide Required: No – The trailhead and trail are well marked
Mount Mitchell is the tallest peak in North America “east of the Mississippi river”, so its an icon of the Appalachian mountains. Heading north from Asheville North Carolina, we drove just over an hour up the Blue Ridge Parkway and then onto an unmarked (South Toe River) gravel road to the Black Mountain Campground, where the trailhead is located. This Black Mountain valley provided us with a nice tranquil river setting for a comfortable start to our hike.
Our ascent of Mount Mitchell started on a well groomed trail, including a section of wooden steps, then the trail quickly became more and more natural. This trail contained a considerable amount of exposed tree roots and small rocks to step over. The surrounding wilderness was all green, with low growing plants and weeds, nice wildflower patches, amongst a fairly heavily wooded forest. There were also a fair amount of dead trees standing, as well as on the ground, with the fallen trees mostly covered in moss.
For the most part, the Mount Mitchell trail was a steady, gradual incline, with a number of switchbacks of various lengths. In a few steep sections, there were man-made rock + wooden steps. Over-all the gently sloping trail allowed us to hike at a very steady pace. We never actually stopped for a break on the way up or down the mountain, except to drink some water and/or take a few pictures. We had no real physical fitness issue hiking up the mountain – personally, my cardio was fine, although my legs were starting to feel a little heavy for the last 30-40 minutes. As a result, I had a few near “face plant” moments, as my trailing foot seemed to like to snag on exposed rocks or roots, hyper-extending my foot and throwing me momentarily off balance. The pace was enough to result in a continual sweat soaked shirt and a little heavy breathing the entire way, although we were (physically) comfortable through-out the hike.
The top part of Mount Mitchell has flora/fauna similar to that of a southern Canadian forest, so there was a nice mix of deciduous and coniferous trees – mostly evergreen, with spruce, birch, and mountain ash, as well as the once common-place, but now dwindling fir trees. When we reached the peak, we were joined by a dozen or more of the park’s visitors who had driven to the top of the mountain to experience the views (without earning it). The views were spectacular – This (more than a) mile high mountain top, provided us with amazing views of the rolling ridges and peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took a break to snack and take advantage of this natural panoramic “photo opportunity”. Wisps of mist constantly rising from the surrounding valleys added an interesting mystic to the experience.
Descending the mountain was a little easier and quicker, and I was fortunate not to have any knee or thigh muscle discomfort, which can plague hikers when descending a mountain of this size. Admittedly, my feet were a little tired and sore by the time the hike was over. In terms of insects, we did not use bug spray and we didn’t get bitten, although the bugs are clearly visible and we would probably have lost some blood if we had stopped moving for periods at a time.
In summary, the Mount Mitchell Trail was a really pleasant, and somewhat draining, long hike through a North American forest with a slightly varied, and a steadily sloped terrain. It was great to hike in the fresh air, listening to the near-constant song birds on a pleasant path with occasional wildflower patches, as well as flower pedal ground-covered areas, from the blossoming trees. Early in our ascent, we passed about 4 or 5 small groups of hikers, and we also crossed paths at various times with 4 individuals, apparently “running” the trail, on their way down – Wow, those guys and gal must be in awesome shape! As we neared the top of the mountain, we also crossed paths with 3 or 4 couples on their way down. We completed the round trip in just over 5 and a half hours.
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