There are a few places in the world that still stand apart from the ordinary. Rising more than a mile high, surrounded by the gentle mist of low-hanging clouds, Mount Mitchell State Park is one of these extraordinary places.
In the crest of the timeworn Black Mountains lies the summit of Mount Mitchell, at an elevation 6,684 feet it is the highest point east of the Mississippi. For those who ascend this mighty peak, what looms in the horizon is a feast for the eyes—breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, rolling ridges and fertile valleys. Forested and forever misty, 1,946-acre Mount Mitchell State Park will provide you with some of the most tranquil moments you'll ever experience.
Mt. Mitchell Overview
Mount Mitchell State Park is a North Carolina state park in Yancey County, North Carolina in the United States. Established in 1915 by the state legislature, it became the first state park of North Carolina. By doing so, it also established the North Carolina State Parks System within the same bill.
Located off of NC 128 and the Blue Ridge Parkway near Burnsville, North Carolina, it includes the peak of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. From the parking lot you can take a short hike to the summit which includes an observation tower and the grave of Elisha Mitchell, the professor who first noted the mountain’s height. The old observation tower was torn down in Early October 2006. The trail leading to the summit has been paved, and a new observation platform was constructed and opened to the public in January 2009. The summit also features an exhibit hall with information about the mountain’s natural, cultural and historical heritage.
In addition to Mount Mitchell itself, the park encompasses several other peaks which top out at over 6000’ in elevation, including Mount Hallback, Mount Craig (just 37 feet) shy of Mount Mitchell in Elevation and the second highest peak east of the Mississippi River), Big Tom and Balsam Cone. Trails lead to all these summits save Mount Hallback, and their exploration takes visitors away from the crowds on Mount Mitchell but to places similarly spectacular. About 8 miles of trails exist within the park in all.
Another popular destination reachable by trail within the park is Camp Alice, at an elevation of 5800’ south of the summit of Mount Mitchell. This historic site is the location of a logging and, later, Civilian Conservation Corps tourist camp at the terminus of the old Mount Mitchell toll road. Lower Creek flows across the main trail at this point and it is one of the highest elevation perennial streams in the Appalachians, flowing through the Spruce-Fir forest. Openings here in the forest surrounded by evergreens resemble such openings near treeline in higher mountain ranges.
The mountain was named after Elisha Mitchell, a professor at the University of North Carolina, who determined its height in 1835 and fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls in 1857, having returned to verify his earlier measurements.
The mountain’s summit is coated in a dense stand of Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest, which consists primarily of two evergreen species; the red spruce and the Fraser fir. Most of the mature Fraser firs, however, were killed off by the non-native Balsam woolly adelgid in the latter half of the 20th century. The high elevations also expose plant life to high levels of pollution, including acid precipitation in the form of rain, snow, and fog. These acids damage the red spruce trees in part by releasing natural metals from the soil like aluminum, and by leaching important minerals. To what extent this pollution harms the high-altitude ecosystem is debatable.
While the mountain is still mostly lush and green in the summer, many dead Fraser fir trunks can be seen due to these serious problems. Repairing the damage is a difficult issue, as the pollutants are often carried in from long distances. Sources can be local or hundreds of miles or kilometers away, requiring cooperation from as far away as the Midwest.
Wildflowers are abundant all summer long. Young fir and spruce trees do well in the sub-alpine climate, and their pine cones feed the birds along with wild blueberry and blackberry shrubs.
The second highest point in eastern North America, Mount Craig at 6,647 feet is roughly a mile to the north of Mount Mitchell.
The summit area of Mount Mitchell is marked by a humid continental climate (Koppen Dfb), with mild summers and long, moderately cold winters, being more similar to southeastern Canada than the southeastern U.S.. High temperatures range from 34.2° F to 67.9° F in January and July, respectively. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the state occurred there on January 21, 1985 when it fell to –34° F, during a severe cold spell that brought freezing temperatures as far south as Miami. It is also the coldest average reporting station in the state at 43.8° F which is well below any other station. Unlike the lower elevations in the surrounding regions, heavy snows often fall from December to March, with 50 inches accumulating in the Great Blizzard of 1993. Snow flurries have been reported on the summit even in the summer months of June, July, and August. Due to the high elevation, precipitation is heavy and reliable year-round, averaging 74.5 inches for the year, though September and October are noticeably drier. The summit is often windy, with the record being 178 miles per hour.