Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mount Mitchell State Park

Bees on a Wild Purple Celery Flower
Summiting the highest peak east of the Mississippi and south of Canada makes me feel like a boss. The only drawback? The parking lot for the summit of Mt Mitchell is only about seventy five feet below the actual summit... disappointing really. Fortunately I knew this beforehand and therefore parked at a more remote parking lot and walked in on the Old Mitchell Trail to make my ascent of Mt Mitchell more rewarding. What follow is my summary of Mount Mitchell State Park and my experiences summiting Mt Mitchell as well as Mt Craig.

Restaurant with Mt Mitchell in background.
The visitors' center, the first building on the road when entering the park, is a clean little building. It was staffed by a friendly ranger willing to show me a map of the park and explain a few things. I took the legal size black and white print out map and folded it up to take with me (free). The map they have is quite detailed and very accurate so don't worry about needing to buy a fancy $10 map. I set off up the road to the next parking lot (I didn't feel like walking the Old Mitchell Trail from the ranger station). There's a nice little restaurant here (pricy!). I didn't try any of the food at the Mount Mitchell State Park restaurant since it was more than I wanted to pay for any of their food. A fish dinner special was priced at $16.

From here, I was able to set out on the Old Mitchell Trail heading towards Mount Mitchell, the highest peak on the east coast of America. From the restaurant the Old Mitchell Trail begins rather tamely and by increments becomes more and more sloppy and boulder strewn. There are commonly several foot drops from one boulder to the next along the trail, followed quite directly by or in combination with, large muddy pools directly in the trial. Judging by the summer weather in the North Carolina mountains, I would guess that the Old Mitchell trail is most likely always in this sloppy state. All of the boulders tend to be slippery with mud.

Trailside maps.
Two miles later, the Old Mitchell trail comes out at Mt. Mitchell having only crossed another trail one time and merging with the Mountains to Sea Trail. The trails are very well blazed and the map signs on the trails are color coded so it's quite impossible to get lost. The Old Mitchell Trail is not for the very out of shape. Do not attempt this trail if you're afraid to get muddy, scraped, or sweaty. The Old Mitchell Trail emerges onto the side of the paved path leading up Mount Mitchell from the parking lot. Here you will find a gift shop, concessions stand, and a lot of park visitors.

Summit marker.
Mount Mitchell's summit is capped with a low turret of concrete upon which is inset the USGS summit marker and a silhouette of North Carolina. It is disappointing in a way that the summit is defiled by the construction, but I find that I don't mind it too much. It makes it easier for the handicapped and feeble to make it to the top of the world. From the summit I headed into the gift shop and bought a few tourist pieces to take home as gifts.

Across the parking lot is the Deep Gap Trail which heads roughly north towards the second highest peak in North Carolina (and the east coast), Mount Craig. This trail is very well maintained with a crushed rock footbed for maybe a quarter mile. The Deep Gap Trail never becomes as bad as the Old Mitchell Trail between Mt Mitchell and Mt Craig, however it does become more wild as it progresses northward. Mt Craig offers some beautiful stony outcroppings at the summit and another of my now addicting finds: USGS summit markers. It really is amazing how fun it is to summit mountains and find those little copper plates in the rock.

Since Mount Mitchell State Park is a state park, camping and fires are only allowed in designated areas. This park contains several of the highest peaks on the east coast, maybe more. A weekend peakbagging trip would be well worth the time. Just be aware of getting overnight parking permits and backcountry camping permits, etc. Enjoy the highest points on the east coast, friends!

Happy Trails!

Look for Park Hours here.

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