Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on January 23, 2024.
Along with Chimney Rock and Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell State Park is one of NC’s most famous mountains. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain in North Carolina and the highest peak east of the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
Whether you’ve driven to the top, hiked all the way up, or have never visited before, we created this guide to feature Mount Mitchell State Park and everything you can do here. Based on our many experiences here, we want this guide to help you enjoy the park and its surroundings as we have.
The article is organized into the following sections so you can find the exact info that you need:
- Where is Mount Mitchell State Park?
- The History of Mount Mitchell
- Visiting Mount Mitchell State Park Today
- Leave No Trace Reminder
- Safety Reminders
- When to Visit
- Things to Do
- Summit Trail
- More Hiking Trails
- More Things To Do
- Gift Shop
- Start the Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive
- Things to Do Around Mount Mitchell State Park (Nearby Places to Visit)
- Blue Ridge Parkway Stops Nearby
- Burnsville, Asheville, and More Mountain Towns
You can skip to any of these sections or continue reading about Mount Mitchell State Park’s location and its history!
Where is Mount Mitchell State Park?
Address: 2388 NC-128, Burnsville, NC
Phone Number: 828-675-4611
Mount Mitchell is part of the Black Mountain Range, which includes 18 named peaks over 6,000 feet. The Black Mountains are the highest range in the Eastern US.
The mountain and the state park are surrounded by lands protected by the National Parks Service as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. You can reach Mount Mitchell State Park via the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 355.3.
We’ve created a few maps that include Mount Mitchell and you can visually plan your trip via the following:
- Asheville NC Map of Attractions (+ 7 Surrounding Counties!)
- The Western North Carolina Map
- The North Carolina Travel Map
The History of Mount Mitchell
Before we share our favorite (and the best) things to do in Mount Mitchell, it’s important to understand its history. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- It’s believed that the first inhabitants arrived in the Mount Mitchell area about 13,000 years ago.
- When Europeans arrived, North Carolina native Cherokee populations were using the area as a hunting ground.
- The Cherokee named the mountain “Attakulla.”
- European Settlers initially renamed the mountain ‘black dome’ until A University of North Carolina professor named Elisha Mitchell surveyed the peaks in 1835 and committed himself to defining its highness.
- The same mountain he studied became Elisha’s tomb. He fell to his death on the mountain in 1857. State officials renamed it “Mount Mitchell” in his honor.
- There was a brief dispute between Mitchell and one of his former students Thomas Clingman about the mountain being the highest in the Black Mountains Range. The debate ended after Mitchell’s death. As a consolation, Clingman’s Dome (NC’s third-highest peak) was named after Clingman.
- Almost 60 years after his death, Mitchell’s findings pushed the governor to preserve the space as the first North Carolina State Park in 1915.
- Mount Mitchell’s popularity increased when the Blue Ridge Parkway was completed in 1950. The State of North Carolina built a new road that would become NC-128, which leads from the Parkway to a short distance from the summit of Mount Mitchell. That road is part of the Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway, which we will mention shortly.
- An observation tower was built at the summit in 1960, to accommodate the influx of visitors.
- Mount Mitchell almost became a part of the National Parks System, as Congress proposed the idea in the 1970s.
- In 1993, UNESCO designated Mount Mitchell as a part of the Southern Appalachian International Biosphere Reserve. As a result, Mount Mitchell is one of a few protected worldwide sites that help solve conservation, sustainable development, and other crucial environmental issues.
Visiting Mount Mitchell State Park Today
Today, Mount Mitchell State Park manages the massive mountain and surrounding lands. In total, the park manages about 2,000 acres. Park rangers and local groups (including NC High Peaks Trail Association) preserve and maintain the area around and including Mount Mitchell.
Mount Mitchell is open throughout the year, except for Christmas Day, as long as the weather cooperates. The park will close when there is severe weather, extreme temperatures, and icy conditions.
Sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway close due to these factors and sometimes the Mount Mitchell State Park entrance is inaccessible.
Mount Mitchell sits far from North Carolina’s biggest cities but feels the effects of pollution and invasive species. Starting in the 1990s, the balsam woolly adelgid, acid rain, and other pollution-related factors ravaged Mount Mitchell’s balsam forests.
Leave No Trace Reminder
While visiting Mount Mitchell State Park (or any public space in North Carolina), PLEASE leave no trace. Pack in, pack out, and please do not litter.
If you’d like to lend a helping hand, bring a grocery bag of your own and pick up any trash you see!
- Mount Mitchell State Park hosts trails ranging from beginner to advanced level.
- Safety is your responsibility when enjoying Mount Mitchell State Park.
- If you’re bringing a dog, North Carolina State Parks require them to be kept on a leash.
- Visitors, hikers, and backcountry campers should be bear-aware, as several black bear populations live there.
- Finally, severe weather is always possible at Mount Mitchell State Park, especially if you plan to hike its lengthy trails or visit the summit. The mountain experiences extreme cold, wind, about 100 inches of snow yearly, lightning strikes, and other weather extremes.
Things to Do
Now that you know the where and when of Mount Mitchell State Park, let’s dig into the best things to do, starting with the number one activity—hiking.
0.15 miles one way (0.3 miles roundtrip)
Seeing as it’s the highest point east of the Mississippi River, the most important thing to do in the area is to reach the summit of Mount Mitchell. The accessible Summit Trail takes you from the Summit Parking Lot to Mount Mitchell’s observation tower.
On a clear day, you can soak in sweeping vistas of the Black Mountains and see all the way into Asheville!
More Hiking Trails
- Balsam Nature Trail (0.75-mile loop): Also known as the TRACK Trail, this hike heads out from the other end of the summit parking area and takes you to the Old Mitchell Trail Junction. The quick loop is perfect for short walks to stretch your legs during a grand day out along the parkway.
- Mount Mitchell Trail (5.6 miles one way): If you’ve got the whole day ahead of you, start from Black Mountain Campground and conquer the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard. This trail climbs starkly over 3,000 feet to take you to the very top of the mountain and meanders across the lush vegetation of the State Park.
- Old Mitchell Trail (2 miles one way): You can always drive to the top and soak in the view, but you can take the Old Mitchell Trail if you want to work for your picnic at the summit. The hike starts at 6,000 feet from the Mount Mitchell State Park Restaurant and will let you summit with plenty of time to get back on the parkway before dark.
- Deep Gap Trail (11.3 miles one way): Deep Gap is also known as the Black Mountain Crest Trail because the hike takes you along 10 of the 18 tallest peaks of the Black Mountain range. You’ll spend an entire weekend tackling the full trail across sweeping mountaintop vistas before ending in the alley below. Once you bridge the gap from Mount Mitchell to Mount Craig, you may be alone for a few miles across some of North Carolina’s most iconic wilderness.
More Things To Do
There’s more to Mount Mitchell State Park than hiking trails. Once you’ve gotten your fill of fresh air, check out some of these Mount Mitchell Mainstays that make the wilderness accessible for explorers of all ages.
Birdwatching at Mount Mitchell can be combined with hiking but we think you should know about it as a separate activity.
You can also watch birds as they migrate through the Black Mountains from Balsam Gap Overlook (Milepost 359.8) and Ridge Junction Overlook (MP 355.3) along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Support the park and stock up on a few light snacks at the summit concession stand and gift shop. Open from mid-May to October 31, you’ll find restrooms, maps, and the perfect souvenir all under the same roof.
One of my prized possessions is my Mount Mitchell t-shirt. Whenever I wear it out, I guess I”ll have to head back up and buy another!
Read More: The NC Tripping Shop
One of the most underrated things about NC State Parks is all the area info that awaits in its museums. At Mount Mitchell State Park, you can find a treasure trove of area information in the small wooden cabin next to the Summit parking area.
The museum is chock full of facts about the area’s geographical and human history and helps bring a further appreciation of this spectacular natural landmark.
Stop in before you set off to learn insider knowledge of the rare flora and fauna you’ll be wandering amidst.
A bit further down the mountain, you’ll find the Mount Mitchell State Park restaurant, which sits at a spectacular vantage point to dine amongst the views of the valley below.
You can find plenty of southern favorites to sample as you recline on outdoor rocking chairs and freshen up in the mountain breeze.
If you’ve packed you’re own lunch, the Summit of Mount Mitchell is perfect for a meal al fresco. The Picnic Area includes picnic shelters that won’t let a bit of rain ruin a grand day out!
We’ve also found picnic spots along the trail, so there are other places to stop and grab a quick bite.
You’ll find a few camping options inside Mount Mitchell State Park. You can reserve a tent spot at the official primitive campground moments from the summit, and backcountry campers are welcome to start their journeys from the state park’s parking areas.
The State Park Campground, open from May to October, offers nine spread-out sites with a grill and picnic table to create a tranquil atmosphere.
As mentioned earlier, backcountry campers should be bear-aware, as several black bear populations live along the gap. We keep a bear bell attached to our backpacks and are lucky to have a couple of loud kids to scare off any bears (knock on wood).
Start the Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive
It’s darn close to impossible to leave the summit of Mount Mitchell without taking the scenic route. The 52-mile route churns out panoramic views along peaks and valleys of Pisgah National Forest and connects Mount Mitchell to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We love driving this scenic road and rate it among our favorites throughout the state.
Ready to Visit Mount Mitchell State Park NC?
Mount Mitchell State Park is easily one of our favorite places in North Carolina. From the extreme weather changes to the unique scenery and all in between, it’s really hard not to like this place.
We’ll keep coming back and sharing what we find but we’d love to hear from you, too! Do you have any fun memories from a visit to Mount Mitchell? Have you ever hiked to the top?
Let us know in the comments or by email, and don’t forget to share your Mount Mitchell adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
Things to Do Around Mount Mitchell State Park (Nearby Places to Visit)
- Blue Ridge Parkway Stops Nearby
- Roaring Fork Falls
- Black Mountain Campground
- Setrock Creek Falls
- Black Mountain
- Old Fort
Let’s start with a few of our favorite nearby Blue Ridge Parkway attractions.
Blue Ridge Parkway Stops Nearby
We already mentioned Balsam Gap Overlook (Milepost 359.8) and Ridge Junction Overlook (MP 355.3) in our “Birdwatching” section. These amazing places also lie along the Blue Ridge Parkway and are within a short drive from Mount Mitchell State Park:
- Glassmine Falls (MP 361.2, 20 minutes away): This variable falls at its best after heavy rainfall, as hundreds of gallons of water pour over 800 feet. The roaring falls can turn into a trickle in the drier summer months, but every day provides a beautiful view of the local landscape. You’ll have no trouble spotting the falls from the well-marked roadside pull-off.
- Craggy Gardens (Milepost 364.4, 25 minutes away): We frequent this natural garden throughout the year, especially in early summer to enjoy the one-of-a-kind bloom of the Catawba Rhododendrons. During peak season, you’ll see all sorts of wild pinks and purples dotting the route along the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, and year-round you’ll be rewarded with a picnic spot amongst a 360-degree view of Black Mountain wilderness.
- Little Switzerland (Milepost 334, 40 minutes away from Mount Mitchell): Little Switzerland is a wonderful small town that packs quite the punch! Its charming downtown comprises a general store, bookstore, and restaurant. Enjoy beautiful vistas at The Switzerland Inn and drive the Diamondback (NC-226), a windy road I love and hate for all the curves.
- Crabtree Falls (Milepost 339.5, 45 minutes away): Choose between a relaxing 1.8-mile hike or a more strenuous 2.5-mile walk to a 70-foot waterfall, with plenty of wildflowers along the way. A bridge over a creek gives you an unbelievable look at the cascading water.
Roaring Fork Falls
25 minutes away from Mount Mitchell State Park
The Roaring Fork Creek feeds into the Toe River two miles off the Parkway along the Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway, resulting in a long, meandering waterfall system. Roaring Fork Falls is reachable after a half-mile hike along a former US Forest Service road.
Scamper along the fall’s edge and dip your toes into the falling water at Mount Mitchell’s base.
Black Mountain Campground
30 minutes away from Mount Mitchell State Park
- Black Mountain Campground: If the Mount Mitchell State Park Campground is full, you won’t have to look far for another fantastic option. The Black Mountain Campground has more amenities than the state park, with hot showers and flush toilets adjacent to the 40 campsites. Three sites even offer 30 Amp hookups! Black Mountain Campground is also where you’ll start the Mount Mitchell Trail.
- Setrock Creek Falls: One of our favorites and a beloved waterfall by locals, this multi-ledged falls is within walking distance from the Black Mountain Campground and provides a quiet place for a picnic lunch. Park at the campground and head off to the water’s edge on the half-mile-long trail.
50 minutes away from Mount Mitchell State Park
Burnsville is usually our gateway to Mount Mitchell State Park and you’ll see why after spending time in this charming town.
- Downtown Burnsville: The town is filled with historic buildings and great local businesses (including shops and restaurants) around Town Square.
- Area Artists: Toe River Arts serves many of the artists in the area, and there are plenty to learn about.
- Mount Mitchell Crafts Fair: Each August, Burnsville hosts the Mount Mitchell Crafts Fair. That summer event draws creators from NC, Tennessee, and Virginia.
50 minutes away from Mount Mitchell State Park
- Downtown Marion: Visit one of the town’s locally owned shops, go panning for gold and gems, and hike the Mount Ida Wilderness Area.
- Bigfoot Festival: Also, have you ever seen Bigfoot? Well, you’ll need to answer that question when you visit Marion during its annual Bigfoot Festival in May!
- Waterfalls Nearby: Beyond chasing tall hairy creatures, Marion is within a reasonable drive of many waterfalls nearby, such as Linville Falls and Tom’s Creek Falls.
55 minutes away from Mount Mitchell State Park
- Outdoor Adventure: Use it as a base for nearby gorgeous hikes, epic waterfalls, and rides on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway
- Just relax in luxury at Biltmore Estate or The Omni Grove Park Inn.
- The city is perfect for a winter getaway, thanks to milder weather, great events like Christmas at Biltmore, the awesome Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum, and more!
- Food and Drink: Throughout the year, we think you’ll love eating and walking around downtown, tasting some of NC’s finest beer at local breweries, and exploring the area’s arts scene.
1 hour away from Mount Mitchell State Park
- Downtown Black Mountain: We love walking around downtown before grabbing a beer at Black Mountain Brewing and plotting our next move.
- Food: Our next move is often toward one of the town’s great restaurants, which includes Smoke behind BMB.
- Local Business: Take a Hike Mountain Outfitters is always on our list of first places to stop in town. Their outdoor gear and clothes selection is among the best in North Carolina.
1 hour from Mount Mitchell State Park
Finally, there’s Old Fort, which sits between Black Mountain and Marion. This is another great base for exploring Mount Mitchell State Park.
Beyond Mount Mitchell State Park (More NC Travel Guides)
We hope you enjoy all the wonderful things to do in Mount Mitchell State Park and nearby. Since we’ve visited this park and its surroundings many times, our website has even more NC Travel Guides.
Here are a few of them: