The Blue Ridge Parkway shows you sweeping vistas of the Appalachian Mountains, and the views are most undoubtably unmatched. But to really experience the mountains, you have to explore the valleys below as well. Black Mountain Campground is tucked neatly into the folds of the mountains below Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River.
Black Mountain Campground sits along the South Toe River, which is a beautiful and cold mountain stream.
Discovering the campground
I found the campground because my sister and I wanted to visit Mount Mitchell State Park. But the state park does not offer showers and my sister didn’t want to go without. I thought about the campgrounds along the Parkway, but didn’t have my hopes too high. The Parkway is operated by the National Park Service, and most national park campgrounds do not offer showers.
But in my research I found Black Mountain Campground, which is a U.S. Forest Service. They have showers, and nice showers at that. They offer 41 primitive campsites and two campsites with electric hookups. For more information on all the specs, click here.
Black Mountain Campground is also the location of one of the trailheads for those wanting to climb Mount Mitchell from bottom to top.
If you don’t want to hike from bottom to top, you can hike the Old Mitchell Trail at the top. It’s neat to compare the vegetation on the top of the mountain to the valleys below.
It is about an hour and a half north on the Parkway from Asheville, N.C. From the campground it is about a 30 minute drive to the top of Mount Mitchell and about a 40 minute drive to the town of Burnsville, N.C.
In addition to being the trailhead for the Mount Mitchell Trail, the campground is also the starting point or a connecting point for many other hikes around the area, like the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
River Loop Trail
My sister and I hiked the River Loop Trail (Upper) – not to be confused with the River Loop Trail (Lower), like I did. They both follow the South Toe River, however the River Loop Trail (Lower) is about half of the distance. So when I told my sister we were only going for a two-mile hike, no more than an hour’s time, and then about a mile down the trail told her we still had three miles to go, she was less than thrilled with my navigation skills.
The River Loop Trail (Upper) leaves from the campground and heads upstream. And the River Loop Trail (Lower) leaves from the campground and heads downstream.
The River Loop Trail (Upper) is about a four-mile loop and is a fairly easy hike. It gives hikers a wonderful tour of a typical scene in the valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It carves a path through the thick vegetation that covers the ground in the temperate rainforest.
A one point, it was like we were walking through a tunnel of Rhododendron. It was also neat to hike beneath the thick canopy and see how dark the forest can be, even in the middle of the day.
What were not neat though were the gnats. My sister kept a pamphlet in her hand and constantly fanned her face to keep them out of her eyes.
The trail parallels the river as well as Forest Service Road 472. About half way the trail meets back up with the road and crosses the river using the road’s bridge.
On the way back to toward the campsite the trail follows the river more closely, and you get more views of the river. This side of the trail also crosses a few streams that flow into the South Toe River. And they were gorgeous.
After you pass the group campground there is a spur trail to a waterfall. Shortly after that is the trail intersection with the Mount Mitchell Trail. Don’t take that trail unless you want to be climbing the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River.
South Toe River Swim
My sister and I opted to do the waterfall spur later because we were hot, sticky, and tired of the gnats. All we wanted to do was get in the South Toe River.
There are some great swimming holes along the river at the end of the camping loop toward the right of the ranger station at the Black Mountain Campground.
I never worked up the guts to fully submerge myself in the river – it was that cold – but my sister did.
Black Mountain Campground
Black Mountain Campground is a wonderful place to stay if you are visiting Mount Mitchell or the Blue Ridge Parkway.
My favorite part is experiencing the Blue Ridge Mountains in the valleys.