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In North Carolina, Black Mountain Campground has been around a long time. It has been taken care of well over the years. Treasured by families that have been returning to Black Mountain through the generations, today it is like an antique. In the shadow of the Black Mountains, they come here to enjoy the relaxed country atmosphere that offers a sampling of the wild country in a forested setting.
Entering Black Mountain Campground, View From Bridge
Located along the road are two water spigots. Midway along the road, a comfort station with flush toilets for each sex is situated.
Next to the comfort station lies a caged garbage disposal area. At Black Mountain Campground, fishing, bicycling, and hiking are the three most popular outdoor pursuits. For their trout fishing, the Toe River and its tributaries are well known.
The Toe River!
One of the toughest hikes in the area, starting at the Black Mountain Campground on the Toe River, this hike climbs 3,600 feet over 5.5 miles. You'll enjoy spectacular views and, a varied forest that changes with the elevation.
Mt. Mitchell Trail
You will pass through stands of Red Spruce that help explain why this tree was such a valued resource, and much of the forest is old growth. Helping provide round trip variety is a side loop to a majestic alpine meadow.
Stands Of Red Spruce
At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi river. Summiting this peak is part of the appeal of this Black Mountain Campground hike. A club which recognizes members who climb all forty peaks above 6,000 feet in the Southern Appalachians, South Beyond 6,000 Feet, this hike qualifies as an accepted route.
Ascending more than 3,600 feet from the Black Mountain Campground to Mount Mitchell's summit, it is quite difficult, so this is also one of the highest climbs of any trail in the area. If you don't have a vehicle shuttle you'll have to come back down, but you can hike down to Black Mountain Campground by starting at the top. Avoid the strain on the knees by driving back down after hiking up, is a good option when you leave a vehicle shuttle at the summit parking area.
By crossing the bridge leading into the Black Mountain Campground, you can begin the hike. At the first intersection, bear left (no pun intended!). All the way to the top, follow the signs for the Mount Mitchell trail. Toward the group camp follow the gravel road, when the trail exits the gravel road then turn right. The ascending starts immediately. The forest is mostly cove hardwoods with a few hemlocks thrown in for good measure at this elevation.
Eating into Long Arm Ridge, you are climbing through a small cove. Through the first of many switchbacks encountered along the way, toward the back of the cove you'll bear right. At any given moment it may be facing any of the cardinal directions due to the way it switches back upon itself, though the trail in this area heads generally north.
As you gain on the ridgeline you enter a mixed oak hardwood forest, and some very large trees grow in the forest here. Although they're out of place at this elevation and will likely be shaded out before reaching maturity, a few small Red Spruce trees grow here. With a few rooty or rocky sections, the footing on this section is mostly good.
The trail follows the ridgeline, after achieving the top of Long Arm Ridge, as you climb swinging back and forth across it. You will begin heading in a westerly direction and break the 4,000 feet mark on this section of trail. Lack of water, shallow rocky soil and stunted by the wind, the trees along the ridgeline, predominantly maples and oaks, are shorter.
Maples And Oaks
The ridge will melt into a steep, high slope of Little Mountain before long. At this point the mountain won't seem very little. Shortly, you will come to a trail junction and you can go either way. Taking the left fork extends the hike by about 0.25 mile but takes you across Higgins Bald, the trails come back together soon.
You can look up to see how far you have left to go, and look down and see how far up you've come, at Higgins Bald, which is roughly halfway to the top! It's recommended to take one fork on the way up and one on the way down. Which you'll soon begin to ascend, the ridge looms above this field. With some spectacular views back down, there are many switchbacks in this area.
Here the trail passes into the northern hardwood zone, and then into the spruce fir zone. You will hike through a spectacular virgin forest of straight, tall Red spruce, ascending rapidly. Seeing them growing here gives you a glimpse at why the forest was so valuable to loggers and a glimpse of what this forest used to look like.
Northern Hardwood Zone
These trees were prize timber, so the spruce wood was sought after and extremely resilient. You will pop out on the old railroad grade that encircles much of Mount Mitchell and provided a way for loggers to get the fruits of their labor off the mountain, as you continue to ascend. At this intersection turn left. The path for the next few yards follows the railroad grade and is shared with the Buncombe Horse Range Trail.
As you reach a great campsite and round Commissary Ridge, to begin the final 1,000 feet ascent to the top of Mt. Mitchell, you'll need to turn right. The trail is well marked. Native Fraser Fir and Red Spruce will soon take over but the forest now is mostly composed of imported Norway spruce. You will pass one deep, nice fracture cave on the way up, and the ridge is pretty rugged.
Giving the area an alpine like feel, open glades with spruces all around. Here the forest becomes almost purely Fraser Fir after you gain the crest of the ridge. Attesting to their young age due to the Balsam Wooly Adelgid having taken out most of the tall, mature Firs years ago, the trees shorten near the top. To replace their fallen ancestors, even aged stands of Fir are growing quickly.
You know you're getting close to the summit, once you reach a flatter section of trail with puncheon laid across to keep your feet out of the mud! Having been on the National forest most of the route, you have broken the 6,000 feet mark and are on Mount Mitchell State Park property.
Mount Mitchell State Park
Welcoming you to the state park, you may notice the sign. Leaving to the right, you'll reach the intersection with the Balsam nature trail. Continue to go straight ahead. A bit more use the trail sees here. You will pass a neat cave on the left and a free standing, enormous boulder on your right.
Until you're right below it, you never really get a view of the peak. If you have the energy, turn left at the old museum building onto the easy leg stretcher summit path and you'll soon be climbing the steps to the tower! East of the Mississippi, the deck of the tower is as high as you will get. Because you're half way done, enjoy the view, get ready and grab something to eat!
On the same trail, return to your vehicle. To enjoy the most views, be sure to take the other fork at Higgins Bald!
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
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