From the top of the highest mountain in the eastern United States the view can be breathtaking.
Already venerable when the Rockies were yet unformed, Mount Mitchell reigns as the highest point east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet.
In 1916, at a time when extensive logging threatened the region’s virgin, old- growth forests, Governor Locke Craig led an effort that resulted in the establishment of Mount Mitchell as North Carolina’s first state park. The 1,700-acre protected area that extends approximately 5 miles along the summit of the Black Mountains preserved a piece of a unique ecosystem, where alpine forests exist in the South.
Mount Mitchell’s peak is well known as a biological island, an isolated environment that the retreating glaciers of the Pleistocene left behind. At its higher elevations, the mountain receives 60 inches of annual snowfall and records average daily temperatures of 51 degrees. Certain subspecies of flora and fauna are found nowhere else, and some migrating birds, including wrens, Carolina chickadees (Parus carolinensis), and slate-colored juncos (Junco hyemalis), have only to travel up and down the mountain with the changing seasons.
As I mentioned earlier in the week, the observation deck on top of Mt Mitchell is being rebuilt this summer, so visits to the summit are probably not in the picture. But you can still hike some of the trails with detours around the construction site.