DATE:
Summer 2021
& Fall 2021

Out & Back, Loops
~ 1 mile

ELEVATION GAIN:
~ 154 ft

LOCATION:
Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

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If you want to visit the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River on a beautiful and easy trail, then this is it. The Balsam Nature trail is a short loop with a small elevation gain that will lead you to the summit of Mount Mitchell. We have taken the kids on this trail twice, and both times it wasn’t crowded at all until the very end. There is a short path to the top of Mount Mitchell from the parking lot that connects with this loop and that section does get busy. The rest of the loop winds through a fairytale like forrest with a variety of plant species that only thrive in such high elevations.

This trail is a great one to do on a hot day as the temperature drops significantly on the mountain. The first time we went was in early August and we wore light jackets. It rained on and off that day and our view ended up being pretty obstructed by clouds at the top. The second time we went in September and it was warmer with views as far as we could see.

There are signs all the way up to the highest parking area where the Balsam Nature Trail head is located. You will drive past a small visitor’s center (with bathrooms!) Then you will drive past a small tent camping area which looks amazing, we are planning to book a spot for next summer! There is also a restaurant that we drove past but it was closed both times we went. At the last parking lot you come to, there is an area with picnic tables and also a small gift shop and museum. We ate lunch at the picnic tables the second time we went and there are beautiful mountain views from there.

The gift shop and museum is very well done. The museum has so much information about the different species of plants and animals that live there, the discovery of the mountain by Elisha Mitchell, and how the mountain is changing today. We spent quite a bit of time exploring in there after our hike.

The trail head is well marked and there are white blazes throughout. The forrest is magical with towering spruce-fir trees. There are steps and rocks to navigate but I would still consider this a very well kept and easy trail. There are also signs along the way that have information on various plant and animal species in the forrest. This is an excellent nature trail for little ones. 

Toward the end of the loop, there will be an incline up to the summit of the mountain. This is the part that becomes more crowded. At the top, there is a viewing area that has signage telling you which mountain ranges you are looking at. There are benches at the viewing area but it can get crowded up there. We had just as much luck soaking in the views around the bottom of the viewing tower. There are lots of breaks in the trees and areas where you could sit to have a snack.

I highly recommend this trail, especially for someone with really small children or less experienced hikers. It was a long drive for us to get there from Johnson City, TN, (~2hrs), but well worth it. Be sure to check for any road closures along the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially if going in the winter time. There are a lot of trails in this area, so it would be easy to make a day trip out of it and explore other trails in the area such as Craggy Pinnacle or Craggy Gardens. This entire area is beautiful and definitely worth checking out!