At the Summit of Mount Mitchell
It’s pretty easy to get to the highest point in the eastern US; visit Mount Mitchell in western North Carolina and most can easily maneuver the 285 yards paved Summit Tower Trail to the top observation deck. It is handicap accessible. But be prepared for chilly weather with temps about 20 degrees cooler than lower elevations, experts say the climate is more like Canada than North Carolina. At 6,684’ you will be rewarded with a 360-degree view for up to 85 miles of the surrounding Black Mountain Range and the Pisgah National Forest. There are many trails of varying levels throughout the Park and several easy trails from the summit. The informative signage about wildlife, plants, and geology make it a particularly enjoyable, educational experience for families.
Elisha Mitchell, for whom the mountain is named, was a professor and scientist for 39 years at the University of North Carolina. He died attempting to prove this particular mountain is the highest east of the Mississippi. His estimations had been challenged by Thomas Clingman (of Clingman‘s Dome fame) and in 1857 at age 64, he was gathering more evidence when a fall of 35-40′ into a pool of water caused his demise. Modern-day science has proven Dr. Mitchell’s calculations to be correct. His grave was moved from Asheville to the summit in 1858, where many had wanted it to be immediately after his death.
You access the Mount Mitchell State Park from the Blue Ridge Parkway and it is open generally from May – December. Bad weather can limit access. There is ample parking and a snack bar at the beginning of the Summit Trail. The Mt. Mitchell Restaurant, with more parking and equally beautiful views, is a little farther down the mountain. Note, the restaurant will close next season (2020) for a complete renovation.
Two Trivia Facts:
- Mount Mitchell is not located in Mitchell County, but rather, Yancy County
- On the plaque commemorating the death of Dr. Mitchell, University is misspelled (its Unversity). The original plaque was replaced in 1928 when the misspelling apparently occurred.