A vista of Mount Mitchell near Asheville, North Carolina.
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Visit the Highest Point East of the Mississippi: Mount Mitchell, N.C.

Just 30 minutes from Asheville, Mount Mitchell State Park offers tons of hiking, camping, and backpacking.

If you're looking for an easy, dramatic weekend trip in the Southeast, Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina should be at the top of your list. This 6,684-foot summit—the highest peak east of the Mississippi River—is inside Mount Mitchell State Park, which boasts a stunning observation deck with 360-degree views, more than 40 miles of hiking trails for all abilities, a seasonal restaurant, and backcountry campsites for those looking for a multi-day adventure.

I've visited Mt. Mitchell many times as I live nearby in the artsy mountain town of Asheville, which is just 30 miles away from the state park. Whether you're also a North Carolina local or you're looking for ways to get outside on an East Coast road trip, the understated park is a great addition.

One of the best parts of the outdoorsy destination is that, unlike many state parks, entry is completely free. Here's how I recommend spending your time there.

READ MORE: The Best North Carolina State Parks

Driving to the Top of Mount Mitchell

An autumn color view of the Mt. Mitchell state park area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, USA.

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A parking area is very close to the top of the summit of Mount Mitchell. Take the scenic route along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville: Drive 35 miles northeast to milepost 355.4. Once you enter Mount Mitchell State Park—there's plentiful signage—it's a 4.5-mile drive to the summit parking area.

If you're traveling to Mount Mitchell in the winter months, you might find the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed due to winter conditions. This will lengthen your drive a bit, as you'll have to take Interstate 40 to Old Fort, then take U.S. 70 to NC Highway 80. Highway 80 will take you to an open section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you'll drive back south toward Asheville until you reach the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park.

Less than a mile past the park's entrance, you'll find a parking area and the seasonal restaurant, which is currently closed for renovations but is slated to reopen later in 2023. Farther down, you'll find the Mount Mitchell State Park Campground, a collection of nine campsites that cost $26 per night. Amenities include restrooms, drinking water, grills and picnic area, but no showers. The campground is open from May 1 to Oct. 31.

The summit parking area also has a concession stand, nearby picnic tables, a gift shop, and a small museum where you can learn about the history of Mount Mitchell—North Carolina's first state park. From the parking lot, the summit observation deck is just a quarter-mile walk away on a steep, paved path.

Hiking to the Summit of Mount Mitchell

Wooded hiking trail on Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.

Getty Images, Tyler Tomasek

The most obvious claim to fame in the park is to be able to say you've summited the tallest peak east of the Mississippi.

It'll be a full-day nature experience—but a very exciting one—that winds through a beautiful spruce fir forest and ends with beautiful views.

The Mount Mitchell Trail is a strenuous, steep trail that travels about 5.6 miles one way from the Black Mountain Campground to the summit. Follow the blue blazes from the campground, which is located in Burnsville, North Carolina. To kick off your hike early in the morning, you could camp at the Black Mountain Campground, which has flush toilets, showers, campfire rings, drinking water, and a few sites with electricity hookups (reservations can be made on Recreation.gov).

Consider the difficulty of this hike when making your plans. Black Mountain Campground is at about 3,000 feet, so you're gaining more than 3,500 feet of elevation over 5.6 miles. The Mount Mitchell Trail is steep.

You can set up your own shuttle if you have two cars: Leave one at the summit parking area, then return to pick up the other car at Black Mountain Campground when you're done with the hike. And there is always the option to complete this hike as an out-and-back. The 5.6 miles back down from the summit to the campground are certainly easier than the hike uphill!

If you want to turn your Mount Mitchell summit hike into a backpacking trip, there is a primitive, backcountry campground (no amenities) called Commissary Hill about 4 miles up the trail from the Black Mountain Campground. A popular option is to hike up to this site in the afternoon, set up and camp for the night, hike the remaining 1.6 miles to the summit in the morning to watch the sunrise, and then take the remaining day to hike back down to your car.

Fun fact: Summiting Mount Mitchell is a qualifying hike for Carolina Mountain Club's South Beyond 6000 Program, an honor bestowed upon those who climb a curated list of 40 Southern Appalachian peaks over 6,000 feet in elevation. Mount Mitchell, of course, makes the list as the highest point east of the Mississippi River!

READ MORE: 13 Hiking Essentials You Should Bring On Every Day Hike

Other Mount Mitchell Hikes

Beautiful young woman hiking on the trail in the forest with her dog.

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If you want to immerse yourself in nature but aren't feeling up for the full summit hike, Mount Mitchell State Park has a vast trail system with plenty of hikes to choose from.

1. Old Mitchell Trail: This moderate trail is 4 miles round trip and leaves from the park entrance. Follow the yellow circle blazes to reach the paved pathway to the summit.

2. Balsam Nature Loop: This moderate trail is a loop, so you don't have to retrace your steps. It's less than a mile round trip from the summit parking lot and includes the option to visit the observation deck. Follow the white triangle blazes.

3. Campground Trail: Another option is to leave your car at the Mount Mitchell State Park Campground and take the red square blazed trail that connects with the Old Mitchell Trail and travels to the summit. This is just under 2 miles round trip to the summit and back.

4. Two-Summit Hike: Ambitious hikers may want to take this opportunity to tackle the Mount Mitchell summit and the second-highest peak in the east: neighboring Mount Craig. Shortly before you reach the summit parking area, look for the start of the Black Mountain Crest Trail near the picnic area. This strenuous trail travels just under a mile, reaching its lowest elevation at about the half-mile mark before climbing steeply up to reach the summit of Mount Craig, which is just shy of Mount Mitchell at 6,663 feet of elevation.

There are many more trails in the park, and you can get creative with making loops and out-and-back trails, especially if you have two cars. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, North Carolina's 1,175-mile state hiking trail that runs from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Outer Banks, runs directly through the summit of Mount Mitchell and offers beautiful scenery amid the Fraser fir forest. Visit the park headquarters at the entrance, and a park ranger can help you design the perfect hiking itinerary!

Things to Remember When Visiting Mount Mitchell State Park

A sign at the top of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina indicating it's the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

Getty Images, traveler1116

Hikers who choose to visit Mount Mitchell in the winter months need to be prepared for winter conditions, such as thick ice on the trails. You will need significant safety gear, including microspikes. There is less activity at the park in the winter months, so you should be confident in your mountaineering skills before taking on these hikes during the winter season.

Regardless of how you access the summit of Mount Mitchell, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It's important to check the weather. The summit is most dramatic on a clear day, when you can see as far as 85 miles in the distance. But North Carolina is prone to misty, foggy days, which can be very moody and beautiful but don't make for excellent views. If you have some flexibility with your travel plans, be sure to check the forecast before venturing out and hoping for long-range scenery.
  2. As with summiting any high peak at any time of year, the weather conditions at the summit of Mount Mitchell will be different from the conditions in Asheville and at the park's entrance. Plan for it to be windier and significantly cooler (10 to 15 degrees cooler) at the summit. Bringing layers along is a great decision!
  3. Mount Mitchell State Park is typically open every day of the year except for Christmas Day, though there are often long closures during the winter months because of weather and Blue Ridge Parkway access.
  4. The park office is only open on weekdays between November and March.

Otherwise, enjoy the trip!

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