It's getting to be that time of year... For Spring Hiking in the Appalachians!
The following is an extract / reprint from our partner themountainhiker.com, that cover's general North Carolina travel / tourist information, as well as a log from hiking the Mount Mitchell Trail. Enjoy!
Bordered by Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina has a diverse landscape including shorelines, a flat Coastal Plain, the rolling hills of the Piedmont and of course the rugged beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. North Carolina is consistently one of the top 10 most visited states, with a “claim to fame” including: The site of the Wright brothers’ historic first flight; The heart of the Stock Car racing world; The nation’s top sweet potato grower; and my personal favourite – the home to Krispy Kreme donuts. Also of note, is the state’s long history of providing epic filming locations for movies and TV shows… Including: The Last of the Mohicans, Dirty Dancing, One Tree Hill, Iron Man 3, Safe Haven, Homeland, The Hunger Games, and The Longest Ride, amongst others.
North Carolina is filled with natural beauty, with more than 120 tree species, a large variety of wild animals, along with 300 miles of scenic coastline (with more sandy beaches than any other Atlantic coast state except Florida). North Carolina is home to 10 national parks and close to 40 state parks. Of course there’s 250 miles of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway that traverses through the state as well, providing an easy way to enjoy breathtaking views from/of the Appalachians.
There’s plenty of hiking to do in this State! Along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina is home to Mount Mitchell State Park, Pisgah National Forest, Grandfather Mountain State Park, Elk Knob State Park, Chimney Rock State Park as well as lesser known Gorges State Park, South Mountains State Park and the Nantahala National Forest. At 6,684 feet (2,037 meters) above sea level, the Black Mountains’ Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in Eastern North America.
Not for the faint of heart, Mount Mitchell is the tallest peak in North America “east of the Mississippi river”, so its an icon of the Appalachian Mountains. Actual vertical of the trail is approximately 3,660 feet (1,115m), as the trailhead begins around 3,020 feet (920m) above sea level. The trail we took was just under 12 miles (18 km) long round trip. You don’t need a Guide, as the trailhead and trail are well marked. Here’s our story…
Heading north from Asheville North Carolina, we drove just over an hour up the Blue Ridge Parkway and then onto an unmarked (South Toe River?) gravel road to the Black Mountain Campground, where the trailhead is located. This Black Mountain valley provided us with a nice tranquil river setting for a comfortable start to our hike.
Our ascent of Mount Mitchell started on a well-groomed trail, including a section of wooden steps, then the trail quickly became more and more natural. This trail contained a considerable amount of exposed tree roots and small rocks to step over. The surrounding wilderness was all green, with low growing plants and weeds, nice wildflower patches, amongst a fairly heavily wooded forest. There were also a fair number of dead trees standing, as well as on the ground, with the fallen trees mostly covered in moss.
For the most part, the Mount Mitchell trail was a steady, gradual incline, with several switchbacks of various lengths. In a few steep sections, there were man-made rock + wooden steps. Over-all the gently sloping trail allowed us to hike at a very steady pace. We never actually stopped for a break on the way up or down the mountain, except to drink some water and/or take a few pictures. We had no real physical fitness issue hiking up the mountain – personally, my cardio was fine, although my legs were starting to feel a little heavy for the last 30-40 minutes. As a result, I had a few near “face plant” moments, as my trailing foot seemed to like to snag on exposed rocks or roots, hyper-extending my foot and throwing me momentarily off balance. The pace was enough to result in a continual sweat soaked shirt and a little heavy breathing the entire way, although we were (physically) comfortable through-out the hike.
The top part of Mount Mitchell has flora/fauna similar to that of a southern Canadian forest, so there was a nice mix of deciduous and coniferous trees – mostly evergreen, with spruce, birch, and mountain ash, as well as the once common-place, but now dwindling fir trees. When we reached the peak, we were joined by a dozen or more of the park’s visitors who had driven to the top of the mountain to experience the views (without earning it). The views were spectacular – This (more than a) mile high mountain top, provided us with amazing views of the rolling ridges and peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took a break to snack and take advantage of this natural panoramic “photo opportunity”. Wisps of mist constantly rising from the surrounding valleys added an interesting mystic to the experience.
Descending the mountain was a little easier and quicker, and I was fortunate not to have any knee or thigh muscle discomfort, which can plague hikers when descending a mountain of this size. Admittedly, my feet were a little tired and sore by the time the hike was over. In terms of insects, we did not use bug spray and we didn’t get bitten, although the bugs are clearly visible and we would probably have lost some blood if we had stopped moving for periods at a time.
In summary, the Mount Mitchell Trail was a really pleasant, and somewhat draining, long hike through a North American forest with a slightly varied, and a steadily sloped terrain. It was great to hike in the fresh air, listening to the near-constant song birds on a pleasant path with occasional wildflower patches, as well as flower pedal ground-covered areas, from the blossoming trees. Early in our ascent, we passed about 4 or 5 small groups of hikers, and we also crossed paths at various times with a handful of individuals, apparently “running” the trail, on their way down – Wow, those guys and gal must be in awesome shape! As we neared the top of the mountain, we also crossed paths with 3 or 4 couples on their way down. We completed the round trip in just over 5 and a half hours.
Travel safe and "enjoy your day in the sun!" - Be sure to protect your head, face and eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays by wearing an Urban Canairie hat whenever you're enjoying the great outdoors. The hat is ideal for hiking as well as everyday sight-seeing.