Mount Mitchell State Park is a 1,996-acre state park in North Carolina. Established in 1915, it’s not only the first state park in North Carolina, it’s also one of the first state parks in the country. From camping to trails, there are numerous activities for everyone to enjoy. Head to the peak of the 6,684-foot-tall mountain, the highest point east of the Mississippi River, to take in dramatic views of the area. There’s no entrance fee to enjoy Mount Mitchell State Park.
History of the Park
Over a billion years ago, shifting lands formed the Black Mountains. These peaks were tall and rugged, but wind and rain have taken their toll and smoothed the tops to the more rounded features we see today. However, because of the solid and erosion-resistant rocks of Mount Mitchell, this peak was able to keep its stunning height. Because the elevation of the surrounding mountains was so even, the first European explorers thought the Black Mountain range was a single mountain. However, in the late 1850s, geographers realized the range included numerous separate peaks.
Views of the Area
From the parking lot in the park, there’s a quarter-mile-long paved path that takes you up to an observation deck, which offers breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of the area. At the base of the observation platform, you can also view the grave of Elisha Mitchell, the professor who first calculated that Mount Mitchell was the highest peak on the East Coast.
Camping in the Park
If you’re interested in camping in the park, you’ll find two options. Mount Mitchell State Park has nine sites in the family campground that are open from May 1 to Oct. 31. Each site comes with a picnic table and grill. Additionally, the campground offers restrooms for use during warmer months; however, showers and hot water are not available.
If you prefer, the park also allows you to leave your car overnight for pack-in camping in Pisgah National Forest. If you choose to do so, you must register your vehicle at the park office or at trailheads near the parking area. Additionally, you need to leave a copy of the registration form on your vehicle’s dashboard.
Plan a Day for a Picnic
Mount Mitchell State Park is an amazing place to enjoy a picnic. There’s a shady picnic area open year-round at the north end of the summit parking lot. This picnic area has stone grills, a drinking water supply, and 40 picnic tables. If you’re planning a large group event, you’ll also find two picnic shelters that have fireplaces. Each shelter can hold up to 16 people and may be used free of charge unless you want to make a reservation.
Eat at the Restaurant
Picnicking isn’t the only option for food in the park. There’s also a concession stand beside the summit parking lot that’s open every day from May to October from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Here you can purchase light snacks and refreshments. This is also where you’ll find restrooms and a gift shop that sells books, crafts, and souvenirs. Additionally, there’s a restaurant about a half-mile from the park office that serves great food along with scenic views. The restaurant is open seven days a week from May through October from 10 a.m. until one hour before the park closes.
Visit the Museum
When you want to learn more about the area, head to the park’s museum. Situated near the concession stand and close to Mount Mitchell’s summit, the museum shows the natural and cultural history of the area. As soon as you walk through the door, you’ll see a diagram comparing how high Mount Mitchell is to other mountains in the area. Other exhibits in the museum include:
- A three-dimensional topographic map that showcases the Black Mountains and includes interactive buttons.
- Four dioramas that display animal life in the state park.
- A geology area with a hands-on display of a rock fault and four samples of the different types of rock you can see in the state park. This display also has magnifying glasses if you want to look even closer at the rocks.
- A life-size wood carving of “Big” Tom Wilson created by award-winning local carver David Boone. Big Tom was the mountain guide who spearheaded a search for Elisha Mitchell.
- A replica of Big Tom’s cabin with interactive buttons that tell stories of his life, as well as displays of historical artifacts.
View Unique Bird Species
Mount Mitchell State Park is also a great place to spot different types of birds. In fact, bird watchers have recorded more than 90 species in the park. Since the mountain reaches such impressive heights, the birds you can see here are more characteristic of those you would find in New England and Canada. Some popular species that nest in the area include golden-crowned kinglets, slate-colored juncos, winter wrens, and red crossbills. Head to the observation tower, and you can catch a glimpse of a peregrine falcon soaring in the sky.
Spot Hardy Plants
Those interested in plant life will also find fascinating species in Mount Mitchell State Park. Even though the clouds and fog that cover the mountain can be as acidic as vinegar, a variety of plants have learned how to survive, including yellow birch, red spruce, and mountain maple, all of which change to stunning colors in the fall.
Whether you’re interested in picnics with great views or learning more about the geography of the area, Mount Mitchell State Park is an incredible destination worth checking out.
Although Mount Mitchell State Park is open year-round, the summit sees heavy fog or clouds 8 out of 10 days. Watch the weather forecast for your best chance of visiting when the skies are clear. Additionally, temperatures on the summit are usually 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the valley, so don’t forget a jacket or sweater.