Sydney on the Trails: Hiking the Highest Peaks

Trail Team 11

Finding a good overlook starts by finding a spot in a higher elevation area, so it’s needless to say that the highest spot East of the Mississippi is the ideal place to take in the fall foliage and the second-highest wouldn’t be bad either. That’s why your Trail Team decided to take on the hike from Mt. Mitchell to Mt. Craig.

The summit of Mt. Mitchell sits at 6,684ft, while the summit of Mt. Craig clocks in at 6,647ft.

Don’t let the little elevation change fool you, there are a lot of hills you’ll have to climb during this hike. However, to get to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, you only have to walk a short distance.

Jake Blood, a board member with the North Carolina Hiking Trails Association says to get to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, “you get out of the car and it’s less than a quarter-mile walk up a paved walkway, and you’re at the summit of the highest peak in the Eastern United States.”  

To actually take a hike through the mountain range though, you’ll have to head down to the parking lot, to the Black Mountain Crest Trail.

In total, this trail is 12 miles, but it takes only a mile to get to the peak of Mt. Craig. Blood says, “you’ll end up going over 10 other peaks over 6000 feet tall.”

During the beginning on the treck, hikers will notice some very nice man-made steps, which Blood says helps with the elevation loss and gain at the beginning on the trail.

“For a trail like this, because you are losing so much elevation, instead of having it switch back-and-forth, they’ve come in and put in wonderful stone and [it] is a fairly recent addition,” Blood said. “A lot of the traditional stonework was done by the Conservation Corps back in the 30s. This was how they used to build the trails, and they really replicated it well.”

Following the end of those steps, hikers will step out into an area where there are hundreds of what appear to be dead trees. While this can make for a good overlook, the site has many visitors worried.

Blood explains that acid rain in the 1900s decimated the trees, and then once they started to grow back, the Adelgid moved in, killing the trees once they grew to be around 5 years old. However, he says eventually, hopefully, everything will be back to normal.

“Within the entire mountain range, there are 18 named peaks over 60,00 feet tall, and in the eastern United States, there’s only about less than 50 feet peaks over 6,000 and you’ve got 18 of them right here in the Black Mountains with Mount Mitchell,” explains Blood. Watch the video below to learn more about the different trails they have available:

While on the trail, hikers will notice signs warning of sensitive plant habitats. Blood explains that, “We’re in North Carolina and we’re up at 6,000 feet, and the environment that we’re in is really much more akin to what you would find up in Canada. So they, the mosses, the ferns, all the trees and fauna that’s growing up here is really unique to this high elevation. We come through a nice heavily forested section and now we’re gonna be breaking out to where it’s very rocky, and where the life is trying to cling to those rocks [it becomes] very hard. And that’s what they want you to be aware of, don’t just go scrambling all over those rocks, because there’s a lot of sensitive growth on them.”

There’s more than just plants that hikers need to keep an eye out for. Blood tells us about some of the animals you can find on the trails in the video below.

At the summit of Mount Criag, hikers need to remember to keep moving forward, until they find the “summit marker.” This is because there is what Blood calls a “fake summit,” that appears to be the end of your hike, but there is still more to see! And when you’re up there, you’ll notice you’re one of few.

“That’s the appeal I think of this area, Mount Mitchell State Park, you can drive all the way up there and park and walk on the sidewalk up to the highest summit and then take a short little jaunt like we did and nobody’s out here, and if you wanted to you could keep on going another 10 and a half miles and you’d be by yourself,” Blood said.

And if you get to the end of your hike and realize you don’t want to go, camping is allowed. Blood explains what you need to know before spending the night, in the video below:

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