Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on August 22, 2023.
Elk Knob State Park sits near the Tennessee border in Northwestern North Carolina, just north of Boone in Watauga County. This might be one of North Carolina‘s newest state parks but it protects some of our oldest mountains and the nearby New River, one of the world’s oldest, too.
The park and its namesake peak are named for elk that once roamed the valleys below and around the mountain. Today, you can hike to the top via the Summit Trail and enjoy beautiful views to the north and south.
The sights at the top and the journey to it are why we rank the Summit Trail among our favorite hikes near Boone.
There are plenty of other fun things to do inside Elk Knob State Park, though. We’ll unpack them in this guide, along with some history, driving directions to get you there, and everything else you need to know!
Elk Knob State Park at a Glance
- Address: 5564 Meat Camp Rd, Todd, NC 28684
- Best Time to Visit: Year-round, Weather-Permitting
- Things to Do: Hiking, Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, Picnicking, Camping
- Phone Number: 828-297-7261
As we mentioned, Elk Knob State Park gets its name from the elk who once roamed the valleys around the mountain. Elk Knob is an amphibolite mountain and sits at an elevation of 5,520 feet, making it one of the highest peaks in the High Country. While it’s not a 6,000-footer like many of the Black Mountains to the south, Elk Knob does see quite a bit of harsh weather.
Evidence of that can be seen through the stunted and gnarled trees on the summit’s northern slopes. Thanks to weathering of the mountain’s amphibolite, hardwoods and rare endangered plants thrive at Elk Knob.
Elk Knob State Park History
The land that surrounds Elk Knob State Park has long been occupied by communities of farmers and millers. At the turn of the 20th century, the mountain was under consideration for development.
Thankfully, a group of local citizens partnered with the Nature Conservancy to buy the land that makes up today’s park. The land was then deeded to the State of North Carolina in 2003 and it was established as a state park.
Elk Knob State Park is still heavily dependent on volunteer support to help assist in projects and conservation efforts.
How to Reach Elk Knob State Park (Driving Directions and Parking)
Located in the Watauga County town of Meat Camp, Elk Knob is only 20 minutes outside of downtown Boone. From Boone, follow NC 194 north for 4.3 miles and then turn left on Meat Camp Road. Continue for 5.8 miles, and the entrance to the state park will be on your right.
If you’re coming from a location north of Elk Knob State Park or elsewhere, use Google Maps, Waze, or GPS to reach the address above. The trailheads are all accessible from one parking area, which is past the park office.
Note that there is little to no cell service at the park until you start nearing the top of the Summit Trail.
We’ve visited during warmer or cooler times and have noticed the parking lot starts to fill up at around 10 in the morning. Please try to arrive as early as you can in case everyone else wants to visit Elk Knob State Park, too.
A few parking spots are also available at the park office.
Things to Do at Elk Knob State Park
Scope out Rare Plants and Interesting Ecology
Before we share Summit Trail details, we thought you should know a little more about the Elk Knob State Park ecology that awaits. Beautiful flame azaleas and rhododendrons await at the top of the mountain but there are plenty of flowers and trees throughout the park.
Tree canopies are fairly common along many of the paths, which help cool them off during hot summer days. Except for the evergreens, they’ll be largely bare in the winter. That’ll enable the sun to come through and help melt any snow or ice accumulation, though some will remain.
Rare endangered plants at Elk Knob include Gray’s lily, spreading avens, trailing wolfsbane, and large purple-fringed orchids. Black bears, deer, bobcats, ravens, warblers, and wild turkeys are the main mammals and birds who call the area home.
Hike the Amazing Summit Trail
Length and Blaze: 1.8 miles one-way, Blue Diamond Blaze
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
We’ve mentioned it a couple of times already and will go into detail about the Summit Trail here. The 1.8-mile trail was built by hundreds of local volunteers who wanted to share this beauty with everyone.
It’s the most popular hiking trail at Elk Knob State Park, with a change in elevation of 1,000 feet from start to finish. The trail gradually ascends without any challenging steep inclines.
There are a number of switchbacks and some patches of rocky terrain, but we are proud to report that our almost 4-year-old hiked the entire trail. The trail is well maintained and crosses over a service road several times.
When you reach the top, you’ll be able to look to the north or south. We recommend going north first, as the views from there are the best in our opinion.
They’ll be capped with snow through the early spring, making for a beautiful view!
More Hiking Trails
While the Summit Trail is the most popular, there are several others, though some are still being developed.
The Backcountry Trail
Trail Length and Blaze: 2 miles one way (4 miles round trip), orange diamond blaze
The Backcountry Trail is a 4-mile round-trip moderate hike that meanders through the valley. This is the trail you would take for Elk Knob State Park camping, which we’ll share more on shortly.
Beech Tree Trail (TRACK Trail)
Trail Length and Blaze: 1 mile loop, yellow diamond blaze
There is also a Kid’s Track Trail at Elk Knob State Park! It is a 1-mile loop around the picnic area and is a fun interactive experience for young hikers. Grab the Kids in Parks map at the trailhead and get to exploring!
Maple Run Trail
Trail Length and Blaze: 0.5 miles one way (1 mile round trip), red diamond blaze
The Maple Run Trail is probably the most unique state park trail in North Carolina because, at the time of writing, it’s the only one designed for cross-country skiing. Hikers can also access this trail, which runs between the park office and the trailhead parking area.
More Things to Do
Beyond hiking to and from trailhead or the park office, we want you to know about these fun things to do at Elk Knob State Park that complement the Elk Knob State Park trails.
Cross Country Skiing
As we mentioned, the Maple Run Trail is designed with cross-country skiers in mind. We’ve seen snow at Elk Knob State Park through early spring so you could possibly ski here for more than a few months out of the year.
To confirm conditions are optimal, please contact the park office (see our “At a Glance” section for more info) before you visit with your skis.
Please note that snowboarding is not allowed at Elk Knob State Park.
The Backcountry Trail will take you to the camping spots at Elk Knob State Park. All sites are primitive and can accommodate anywhere from up to 6 people or up to 26 people.
For more information, please visit the park’s reservations page or call during open hours at 828-297-7261.
You can picnic at Elk Knob before, after, or during your hike. There’s a picnic area at the parking lot near the Beech Tree Trailhead with tables and spots. Along the Elk Knob Summit Trail, there are a couple of benches for you to stop, sit, stare out at the mountains, and enjoy a snack or lunch.
Keep Visiting All Year!
Elk Knob State Park is the first place we’ll take friends who aren’t familiar with the High Country because the views are a wonderful introduction. It’s also great to visit throughout the year, especially in winter when some of the best hiking trails near Boone are closed or inaccessible.
We love Elk Knob for offering some of the area’s only winter summits but also for its beautiful green (and flower-filled) views in the warmer months.
Add in a fun array of activities that include the only publicly managed cross-country skiing trail, and it’s really hard to top a visit to Elk Knob State Park when in the High Country!
If you’ve also hiked here or visited one of the wonderful state parks near Boone NC, we’re curious to know about your experiences here, too! Let us know in the comments section and feel free to share your fun Elk Knob State Park photos and videos from there in our Facebook Group!
Elk Knob State Park is one of our favorite hikes near Boone and it also nicely pairs with Grandfather Mountain and Mount Jefferson, or one of the waterfalls in the area if you want to make it a weekend of exploring.
More Things to Do Near Elk Knob State Park
The High Country is filled with wonderful things to do and a few different Boone NC State parks. We’ve written about quite a few of them. Here are some related posts to boost your adventures here!