June 29, 2010
Near: Spruce Pine, NC - along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Route: Old Mitchell Trail, Balsam Trail, Deep Gap Trail, Big Tom Gap Trail,
Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Commissary Trail
Distance: 11.7 miles
Conditions: Sunny, nice
Impression: This was a tough hike...i originally planned on camping somewhere on Mt. Mitchell, but there are very few campsites along these trails, with legal camping only to be done in a few designated areas...from the ranger station, i began my hike on the Old Mitchell Trail, which lead up the first two 6000' peaks...along this ridgeline, there are seven peaks above 6000', while Mount Mitchell's 6684 feet make it the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River...near the Mt. Mitchell summit, there's a parking lot which is less than a quarter mile from the observation area at the mountain's peak...on nice days, this is a popular area, so expect there to be lots of people...it's easily accessible from the Parkway and that draws crowds...after taking in the views, i decided to do the Balsam Trail loop before continuing along on the Deep Gap Trail and the other six thousand foot peaks...
From there, it's up and down with a few rock scrambles, ladders and guidelines that challenged and excited me...it's a reminder of the tough, rocky hiking that can be found on the Appalachian Trail in the northeast...I hiked out to Potato Hill before deciding to turn around...at Big Tom Gap, i took a new trail down the Mountains-to-Sea Trail...this lead me towards the Commissary Trail and back to my car...
This route that i took was strenuous and not for all people...if you are considering a hike in this area, and i highly recommend it, plan on either shorter distances or camping in one of there designated areas...this trip took me all day and i was exhausted when i was done...camping at Deep Gap would give you access to the other 6000' peaks that i missed...
Directions to Trailhead:
The best way to get to Mt. Mitchell from Asheville, NC is via the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 355.4). From the Parkway's Folk Center, just outside of Asheville, it's a 27 mile beautiful drive (mostly up!). Allow one hour to drive, since traffic can be slow and you'll want to stop at overlooks along the way. This section of the Parkway is closed much of the winter. The alternate route is to take I-40 East from Asheville to Exit 86. Follow U.S. 221 North about 10 miles to U.S. 70 West. Go about two miles to NC Highway 80 and go north to the Parkway. Drive south on the Parkway to the entrance of Mt. Mitchell State Park.
More from Mt. Mitchell: