With an elevation of 6,684 feet Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi, nearly beating out its nearby rival mountains of Mount Craig (6,647 feet) and Clingman’s Dome (6,643 feet). A quarter-mile, paved trail leads from the parking area leads to a new, spacious observation platform which opened earlier this year. The 360 degree views are amazing – but you might want to bring a jacket—it’s always chilly and windy up there -- it is said that 8 out of 10 days visitors can expect to find the summit covered with clouds. In fact, the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state of North Carolina occurred there on January 21, 1985 when the temperature plummeted to −34°F. The highest temperature ever recorded at the summit is just 81°F. Fortunately, the concession stand at the parking area sells hot chocolate.
Next to the viewing platform is the actual grave of Dr. Elisha Mitchell, the mountain's namesake (above, foreground). While a professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Mitchell traveled to the region beginning in1835 to measure mountain elevations. He was determined to show that the Black Mountains were indeed the tallest in the Appalachians. Eventually, his calculations proved that his belief was correct. However, on a trip to verify his findings, Dr. Mitchell fell from a cliff above Mitchell Falls and died on June 27, 1857. He was 64. His body was originally buried in Asheville, but moved a year later to be buried atop the mountain named in his honor.
To visit, take the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile marker 355 and follow the access road through the park to the summit parking area. Click here for detailed maps and directions, and click here and here for more discussion and information about the park.