It’s midsummer; time to head to the highlands for some cooler temperatures. And, at 6,684 feet above sea level, the highest of the high is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina’s Black Mountains. You can almost reach the summit by automobile but, remember, this is not a driving blog. Besides, where’s the fun and adventure in that?
There are a number trails leading to the mountaintop, but the way to best experience the dramatic scenery, rise in elevation, and drop in temperature is the Mount Mitchell Trail from the US Forest Service’s Black Mountain Campground located on USFS 472 and accessed from Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 351.9. Be ready for some huffing and puffing, as the pathway ascends close to 4,000 feet in a little less than 6 miles. It’s a steady rise, first through a forest of mixed deciduous and evergreen trees that gives way to a stand of spruce and fir as you rise in elevation. Although much of what you are hiking through is virgin forest, you will witness firsthand what the effects of insect infestation and air pollution are doing to the Blue Ridge’s high elevation woodlands.
The summit and its fancy new observation tower, opened in January 2009, are in the clouds eight out of ten days. You’ll get a view that takes in 85 miles of some of eastern America’s most impressive mountain scenery if you’re here on a clear day. If it’s cloudy, you will still get the lower temperatures I promised—it can be anywhere from ten to 30 degrees cooler on the summit than in nearby Asheville.