Last Updated on December 14, 2020
Last Updated on December 14, 2020
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With 18 named peaks over 6,000 feet, many of North Carolina‘s most epic views and scenery can be found in the Black Mountains, mostly located in Yancey County. The highest mountain range in Eastern USA, the Black Mountains offer hikes that are both incredibly tough and novice-level, perfect for just about anyone.
Inside this guide, we’re featuring 10 of the best Black Mountains hikes. Some big names like Mount Mitchell and Crabtree Falls will make appearances, alongside some of the lesser-known, but equally as amazing, trails.
If you’re seeking somewhere to stay and even a local guide, we’ve got you covered there, too! Here’s how we’ve organized this guide to Black Mountains hikes:
- Black Mountains Defined
- Black Mountains Hikes (Who Maintains Them?)
- Mountains to Sea Trail
- 4 Hikes in Mount Mitchell State Park
- 4 Hikes from Black Mountain Campground (Plus Camping!)
- 2 Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
- Guided Hikes with Snakeroot Ecotours (Plus a Local B&B!)
- More Hiking in North Carolina (Related Posts)
Black Mountains Defined
The name “Black Mountains” comes from the darker spruce-fir forest that forms in these high mountains. That is a contrast to the greener and browner mountains found at lower elevations in the Appalachian chain.
Black Mountains Hikes
The Black Mountains hikes featured here are maintained by NC High Peaks Trail Association, also known as Friends of Mount Mitchell State Park. We interviewed Jake Blood from NC High Peaks during an episode of NC Travel Chat, which can be listened to on Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms.
Mountains to Sea Trail
If you spot a white blaze marker while hiking, that indicates that you are on the MST and could potentially keep going all the way to Jockeys Ridge along the Outer Banks. Just don’t do it on a whim, however, since you won’t even be a quarter into the 1,200-mile journey!
The MST is not officially included in our count of Black Mountains hikes, but we thought you should know that it’s always somewhere nearby!
Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell State Park is home to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak of the Eastern United States at 6,684 feet. Other big names surrounding Mount Mitchell include Mount Craig, Big Butt, and many more.
You can hike more than a few trails in Mount Mitchell State Park that lead to the top and to other formidable peaks, four of which we detail below.
1. Balsam Nature Trail
0.75 Mile Loop | Difficulty: Beginner
The Balsam Nature Trail is also Mount Mitchell’s TRACK Trail. This short and kid-friendly trail runs between the Summit Parking Lot and the Old Mitchell Trail junction. Here, you’ll find interpretive signs along the way as well as the highest spring in the Eastern United States.
2. Summit Trail
0.15 Miles | Difficulty: Easy
The Summit Trail at Mount Mitchell State Park might be the shortest and easiest of the Black Mountains hikes that we’ll share. However, it’s still notable because you can get a quick look at the Black Mountains from the very top of Mount Mitchell.
Also, this is the resting place of Elisha Mitchell, the UNC professor who made the first claim that Mount Mitchell was, in fact, the Eastern US’s highest peak.
3. Old Mitchell Trail
4.4 Miles Round Trip | Difficulty: Strenuous
Instead of driving to the top, you can hike the mountain via the Old Mitchell Trail. This was the primary trail used by explorers in the 19th through the early 20th century.
Today’s trail follows parts of that original path, starting from the Mount Mitchell State Park restaurant. Since the entire hike takes place above 6,000 feet, you can expect cooler temperatures, even during the summer.
4. Black Mountain Crest Trail
24.2 Miles Round Trip | Difficulty: Advanced
Start the Black Mountain Crest Trail (also known as Deep Gap Trail) at the Mount Mitchell summit and hike toward Mount Craig, the second-highest peak in the Black Mountains at 6,647 feet. Another starting option is at the trailhead near Bowlens Creek.
Either way, you’ll go over and around 10 of the 18 tallest peaks during this epic hike. The section between Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig gets pretty popular but beyond that, you’ll be able to enjoy some solitude and beautiful scenery.
Plan for multiple days (2 to 3 recommended) during this incredibly advanced 24-mile Black Mountains hike.
Black Mountain Campground
The Black Mountain Campground sits next to the roaring South Toe River, just a few miles away from NC-80 and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
With 37 primitive sites, 3 of which offer electric hookups, showers, and restrooms, this is a major hub for campers. Many people just come here for the day, too, considering some amazing trails start at the Black Mountain Campground, four of which are featured below.
5. Mount Mitchell Trail
12 Miles Round Trip | Difficulty: Advanced
While the Mount Mitchell Trail will take you into the namesake’s state park, its trailhead is actually located inside the Black Mountain Campground.
From start to finish, this blue-blazed trail will take you up to about 3,000 feet in elevation to the very top of Mount Mitchell.
6. Setrock Creek Falls
1 Mile Round Trip | Difficulty: Easy
Also inside the Black Mountain Campground is the Setrock Creek Falls trailhead. It’s about three miles down the road from Roaring Fork Falls, which we’ll mention shortly.
This 75-foot waterfall is reached after a flat half-mile walk through the woods. It’s probably one of the easiest Black Mountains hikes that we’ll mention, and such a rewarding one, too!
7. River Loop Trail
2.4 Mile Loop, 3.5 Mile Loop, or Longer | Difficulty: Moderate
There are two River Loop trails (Upper and Lower) but as one reader mentioned, you can combine them into one. The Upper River Loop starts from the Black Mountain Campground parking lot and goes up with the MST before looping back at around 3.5 miles.
You’ll find the Lower River Loop on the other side of the campground and can park and start from the fishing pull-off before the main parking lot. You can do it from the main lot, too, and join them together for a longer hike.
8. Roaring Fork Creek Falls
1 Mile Round Trip | Difficulty: Easy
While technically not located inside the Black Mountain Campground, the Roaring Fork Creek Falls trailhead can be found just a few miles outside of it once you pull off of NC-80.
When you see this amazing waterfall in person, you won’t care about its specific location, either. To reach Roaring Fork Creek Falls (also referred to sans “Creek”), you’ll take a stroll along a mostly flat forest service road. After a half-mile walk, the 100-foot long cascade will come into view, framed by rhododendrons and other greenery.
Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
Along with the Mountains to Sea Trail, our favorite scenic road also weaves through the area. A couple of great Black Mountains hikes are also Blue Ridge Parkway stops, with one doubling as one of the state’s best waterfalls.
9. Crabtree Falls
2.6 Miles Round Trip | Difficulty: Moderate
Crabtree Falls is a waterfall that we’ve been visiting long before we knew about the other Black Mountains hikes and what else could be found further in Yancey County. The trailhead is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP 339), and it takes about 1.6 miles to reach the falls.
You can return the way you came, though we recommend the shorter, steeper route back. However, when you see this amazing 70-foot waterfall in person, you won’t be thinking about going anywhere for a while!
We think Crabtree Falls is one of the best waterfalls in North Carolina, especially near Asheville and certainly near Boone and Blowing Rock. It’s also included in our guide covering day trips from Boone, in case you don’t believe us!
10. Green Knob Fire Tower
1 Mile or 5.9 Miles Round Trip | Difficulty: Strenuous
The Green Knob Fire Tower is accessible via the Black Mountain Campground, but you can start the much shorter one-mile hike from MP 350 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
For this shorter route, you’ll gain about 350 feet in elevation. Stick to the two white diamond blazes and avoid the temptation to join the yellow diamond blaze at the first fork.
The longer hike from Black Mountain Campground will see about a 2,500-foot elevation change, so stretch those legs beforehand.
The fire tower that awaits you is not visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, but plenty of the mountains around it can be viewed from there.
Guided Hikes with Snakeroot Ecotours
With plenty of known trails in this area, you might forget that the locals know some of the most offbeat Black Mountains hikes. Tal Galton of Snakeroot Ecotours will take you for any variety of walks to waterfalls or through the cloud forest.
Seasonal and plant themes join the mix, too, in case you’d like to hunt for fireflies, wildflowers, and mushrooms during specific times of the year. If you’d like a truly immersive experience, ask about the overnight and weekend retreats that Tal offers in partnership with the Celo Inn, a local bed and breakfast.
Ready for These Black Mountains Hikes?
The J-shaped Black Mountains are just waiting for us all to explore them. If you’ve visited this part of the state, we’d love to know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing some of the places mentioned in this guide!
Also, do you have any favorites among the Black Mountains hikes that we featured? If you are planning your first trip to the area, which trail do you plan to hop on first? Let us know in the comments!