Mount Mitchell (North Carolina State Highpoint) Via Old Mitchell Trail

Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina

Trip Date: Monday, June 29th, 2020
Last Updated: Thursday, August 6th, 2020
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 2.8 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Strenuous climbing, 800 feet of elevation gain
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

You might expect the highest peak east of the Mississippi to be a difficult place to reach, but you can drive almost all the way to the top and walk a short distance on a paved path to the overlook. Having done this recently on the state highpoints in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, I wanted a bit more of a hike. The Old Mitchell Trail is the perfect alternative since it is relatively short but still long enough to make you feel like you earned your view at the end. You'll also get to experience more of the unique forest that only grows on the tops of the highest peaks in the Southern Appalachians.

The trail starts on the east side of the parking lot near the restaurant. You'll immediately start climbing uphill, though the trail is more gradual and well-graded in comparison to what comes later. Eventually, you'll start a short descent and the trail will become more rugged. The rocks here are almost always wet due to the frequent drizzles and high humidity, so be careful not to slip!

The forest you'll hike through is different from what you'll see elsewhere in the Appalachians. Mount Mitchell is located in the Black Mountains subrange, which was named for the dark color of the spruce and fir trees that only grow on top of the highest mountains, as pictured below. In winter, these evergreen trees starkly contrast the brown of the deciduous trees that grow on lower elevations. Only 6 places in the Southern Appalachians have peaks with this type of forest; you can also find it on the Tennessee and Virginia state highpoints.

Foggy spruce-fir forest on the slopes of Mount Mitchell

Foggy spruce-fir forest on the slopes of Mount Mitchell

As you trek deeper into the forest, the trail is extremely rocky with exposed mangled tree roots. Notice how the surrounding trees and rocks are covered with moss and lichens, as pictured below -- this is the rainiest place in the contiguous U.S. outside of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest.
The rainforest-like environment makes everything mossy

The rainforest-like environment makes everything mossy

The only view from the trail outside of the summit area is where the vegetation was cleared for a powerline, as pictured below. Though it doesn't look like it, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway runs on top of the closest mountain ridge you see in the distance here (you may have even driven over that section depending on how you got here).
Trailside views to the east thanks to a clearing for powerlines

Trailside views to the east thanks to a clearing for powerlines

Once you are closer to the top, you will have to make a couple turns to stay on the Old Mitchell Trail. Simply follow the route with the yellow blazes at each intersection (these are yellow discs nailed to trees -- if you look closely in the first two photos, you can see examples). The Old Mitchell Trail ends at the paved route to the summit. Turn right and you'll soon see the observation platform pictured below, and you'll have hit 6684 feet above sea level.
The sign and observation platform on top of Mount Mitchell

The sign and observation platform on top of Mount Mitchell

It's rare that you'll have a clear view from the top, but if you're lucky there will be a break in the clouds revealing the endless green mountains in the distance, as pictured below. If it is cloudy when you arrive, I recommend waiting a while since the high winds that frequent the summit may blow some cloud cover away. The observation platform lifts you above the treetops and gives you a panoramic view, though the tallest trees still block some parts. The northerly view is the least obstructed (or that's what it seemed like through the clouds).
The view to the north from the summit of Mount Mitchell

The view to the north from the summit of Mount Mitchell

Head back the way you came, and be particularly careful on the slick rocks on the descent. Enjoy your trip to the top of the tallest mountain in thet Appalachians! Connect with me using the social media links below and share your adventures!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on leash. The Old Mitchell Trail is steep and rocky; the more family-friendly option is to drive most of the way to the top and take the paved trail to the summit. Spring through fall is the best time to visit since winter weather often closes Blue Ridge Parkway. Most people opt to drive up Mount Mitchell, so you will some have moments of solitude on this trail.


Mount Mitchell State Park is about an hour from Asheville. From Asheville, take North Carolina Highway 694/Town Mountain Road to Blue Ridge Parkway, then turn left. Follow the scenic, winding road to North Carolina Highway 178 and turn left -- there will be signs for the state park. Park in the lot for the restaurant.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free! There is a restaurant and restrooms near the lot.

Nearby Hikes

A smaller observation deck near the parking lot
Sassafras Mountain (South Carolina State Highpoint)
South Carolina
The concrete tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome (Tennessee State Highpoint)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Views to the east after gaining some elevation
Mount Rogers (Virginia State Highpoint) from Massie Gap
Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia
The communications equipment on Black Mountain
Black Mountain (Kentucky State Highpoint)

External Links