Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. It rises 6,684 feet above sea level – high enough to be significantly cooler in temperature than the valleys below. On the top is Mountain Mitchell State Park, which has several nice hiking trails. For a short hike that gives you a sense of the mountain, the Old Mitchell Trail is an excellent choice.
Old Mitchell Trail
The Old Mitchell Trail about two miles one-way but can be combined with the Camp Alice and Commissary trails for a 3.1 mile loop. If you choose to hike to the summit however, the trail is 4.1 miles.
For a map of the trails, click here.
Where the trail intersects with the Camp Alice Trail, the Old Mitchell Trail continues for a half of a mile to the summit. But to make it a loop, you have to double back to the Camp Alice Trail intersection. Having already driven to the summit on my visit, my sister and I decided to not include it in our hike.
The Old Mitchell Trail technically begins at the Park Office, which is just beyond the entrance gate to the park. However if you choose to loop it, there is more parking at the restaurant, and then you can reward yourself with a tasty meal afterwards.
Restaurant to Camp Alice Trail
The trail can be a little difficult to spot because it begins in some trees and there is not a path that leads you there. You simply walk across the lawn. However it does begin right above the parking lot, and there is a sign. So it’s not too hard to miss either.
I chose to hike the trail beginning by heading toward the summit of Mount Mitchell. I didn’t know it at the time, but I believe this is the best way because most of the climb is done on the Commissary Trail, which is a nice dirt road.
It is 0.8 miles from the restaurant to the Camp Alice Trail, and this is the hardest part. The trail takes you up and down a lot, and not on easy inclines either. This part of the trail is a hike up and over boulders. There are a few spots where the park has added wood stairs. And there is one place where they added a rope for assistance. It is definitely not an easy hike, but you are not on this part for very long.
When I visited Mount Mitchell it was foggy. The Old Mitchell Trail takes you through an evergreen forest, and the smells of balsam and cedar were heavenly and the humidity held the smell in the air for the whole time we were on the ridge.
Camp Alice Trail to the Commissary Trail
When you get to the trail intersection with the Camp Alice Trail you are going to want to go to the right if you are not going to the summit.
If you do want to make the half mile trek to the summit and back for the loop, you are going to want to go to the left. There is a sign and it is marked well.
Want more of North Carolina? Check out my North Carolina – Naturally Wonderful Post.
The Camp Alice Trail drops steeply into the valley. As you drop down the forest opens up more and shortly you will hear a water rushing. Just before the intersection with the Commissary Trail, there is a short spur trail to the cascade. But don’t worry, if you miss it you can see it flowing under the Commissary Trail at the trail intersection.
Commissary Trail to the Park Office
From the intersection of the Commissary and Camp Alice trails to the Park Office it is 1.2 miles. Like I said it is on a nice wide dirt road, which make the climb back to the top easy.
As we hiked along the Commissary Trail having left the fog on the Old Mitchell Trail, we now hiked in rain. However it was just sprinkles and not bothersome.
You cross two power line corridors which give you amazing views of the valley below. I also like looking up toward the ridge and see how far I’ve hiked down. It’s also neat to see the different types of vegetation that just a little bit of elevation can change.
Park Office to the Restaurant
The Commissary Trail comes up behind the Park Office and the Old Mitchell Trail is on the road side. From the Park Office the Old Mitchell Trail is 0.6 miles back to the restaurant.
The trail takes you up Mount Hallback, but the climb is not difficult. You hike through a stand of dead Fraser Fir trees. Walking through the white skeletons is sad, but you do get a nice view through them.
Once you start to descend, it is all downhill from there.
This section of the Old Mitchell Trail is not nearly as technical as the first section was, which was nice to have at the end of the trail.
Old Mitchell/Camp Alice/Commissary Trail Loop
This is a great hike for exploring Mount Mitchell State Park. It shows you how rugged the mountain is. It also takes you through different ecosystems so you can really see how diverse hiking in the mountains can be.