Jump off your mountain hiking experience from Asheville. Located in the French River Valley, Asheville only has an elevation of around 2000 feet. Towering high above the valley and Asheville are some of the tallest mountains in the state. Instead of looking up at those peaks from town, take trips to their summits to enjoy some of the most breathtaking views in the area.
Mount Mitchell ranks as the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River, rising to 6,684 feet above sea level. This ranking draws hikers and tourists from around the area for the chance to stand atop the highest point in the Eastern United States.
To get to the top, you need to first go to Mount Mitchell State Park. The first state park in North Carolina, Mount Mitchell Park serves as the base for hikers looking to scale multiple mountains in Asheville’s backyard. You can park your car overnight within Mount Mitchell Park when hiking out to camp at the primitive campsites and nearby peaks of the adjacent Pisgah National Forest.
The first summit you want to visit while in the park is, of course, Mount Mitchell. Getting to the summit of Mount Mitchell can range from simple to difficult, depending on the path you choose to take. The shortest path leads along an accessible, paved trail from the summit parking lot to the top of the mountain. Other options include using any of the more strenuous trails to reach the mountaintop or connecting to other peaks in the area.
2. Mount Craig
Mount Mitchell State Park includes two other major mountains in the area connected by the Black Mountain Crest Trail, also known as the Deep Gap Trail. As the trail’s name suggests, the path links the tops of Mount Mitchell, Mount Craig, and Big Tom.
Mount Craig stands less than a mile from Mount Mitchell along the well-trodden trail, but the last part of the trail before the summit is very steep. You will go up 300 feet over just a third of a mile of distance during the trek to the Mount Craig Summit. Avoid the trip in wet weather when muddy conditions make the trek difficult and dangerous. Stay on the trail at the rocky peak of Mount Craig to protect the endangered plants in the area.
Visiting these two mountains will mark the two tallest peaks in the Eastern United States off your hiking list. Standing at 6,663 feet above sea level, Mount Craig is a lofty summit to reach.
3. Big Tom
The second major peak that you will reach along the Black Mountain Crest Trail is Big Tom. This mountain stands at 6,581 feet above sea level, slightly shorter than Mounts Craig and Mitchell. To get to this peak, continue from Mount Craig for 0.15 miles to the top of Big Tom. Unlike other peaks, Big Tom has substantial tree cover at the top, but you can still see remarkable views through the trees. If you continue from Big Tom north along the trail to Deep Gap, the trail becomes much more strenuous. Most people turn around from Big Tom and hike back through Mount Craig to Mount Mitchell State Park for a 2.1-mile round trip.
4. Cattail Peak
Many of the highest peaks around Asheville are in the Black Mountains range, which explains why so many of these hiking trips start at Mount Mitchell State Park. The journey to Cattail Peak requires you to take the same route from Mount Mitchell to Big Tom and continue on the Deep Gap Trail to Balsam Cone. Balsam Cone and Cattail Peak rise over 6,000 feet above sea level, with heights of 6,611 and 6,600, respectively.
If you already plan to climb to the top of Mount Mitchell, Mount Craig, and Big Tom, the trip to reach Balsam Cone and Cattail Peak adds an extra mile to the round-trip journey from Mount Mitchell. You will top five peaks over 6,000 feet in one trip.
Balsam Cone features a rebounding forest of balsam trees that reflects nature’s durability. The trip to Cattail Peak does not descend too far, making it an easier leg of the journey than other parts. However, you’ll notice that Cattail Peak has its summit mislabeled. Climb just a little higher to reach the true top of this peak.
What makes the peaks around Asheville so enjoyable to visit is the variety of environments encountered. Mount Craig has a rocky summit, while trees cover that of Big Tom. Craggy Pinnacle boasts a blooming bouquet of wildflowers during the summer, making it a feast for the eyes. In the springtime, the rhododendron blossom, creating a backdrop of brilliant pink flowers along the trail to the top of the mountain.
Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Craggy Pinnacle is part of the series of mounts called the “Craggies” by locals or officially The Great Craggy Mountains. From the top of Craggy Pinnacle at almost 5,900 feet above sea level, you can see the French Broad River Valley and one of the best sunset vistas around.
Bonus Peak: Grandfather Mountain
If you have kids or need an accessible mountain to add to your trip, take the 90-minute trip from Asheville to Grandfather Mountain. At 5,946 feet above sea level, this mountain is unlike any you’ve seen. First, it is a privately owned peak that has several attractions along the short 2.5-mile road from the entrance to the mountain peak. You’ll find educational programs, native wildlife, and plenty of hiking trails on the road to the top of Grandfather Mountain. Elevators and stable trails make a trip here easier for those who might not be able to hike on strenuous paths. Plus, everyone, even well-behaved pets on leashes, can enjoy the view from the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Don’t worry, the bridge doesn’t swing the way that the original model did. The first bridge did swing across the chasm. Today’s bridge uses a sturdy construction of steel to support guests as they cross to Linville Peak.
While crossing, you’ll notice that you are not a mile above the ground below. Instead, the bridge only stands 80 feet above the ground, providing visitors with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding area. The bridge’s name comes from its elevation of a mile above sea level. Crossing the bridge and looking down from the tops of a pair of mountains is an unforgettable experience that will make the trip from Asheville to Grandfather Mountain worth the drive.
Nestled in the French Broad River Valley and surrounded by tall mountains, Asheville’s low elevation makes the mountain views even more inviting. The peaks of the nearby Black Mountain offer numerous chances for visitors to hike some of the state’s tallest peaks. Grandfather Mountain provides an additional opportunity for an accessible and kid-friendly mountain summit adventure. Don’t miss your chance to feel on top of the world by visiting these mountain summits.
Interested in more? Check out these 10 other favorite trails in the area!