It is cold, rainy and windy. Let’s go hiking! Sounds like a great plan, right? Well, as true adventurers, we not only decided to go hiking, we set out to conquer the highest mountain peak East of the Mississippi. This was our journey to and up to the peak of Mt Mitchell in Mt Mitchell State Park.
From Hendersonville, North Carolina (our current home base), the peak is about 72 miles away. During other seasons, the drive would be shorter. But, due to a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway being closed because of tunnels icing over, we had to take a longer way around. And boy oh boy did we pick an interesting path to get there.
We chose to take Interstate 26 from Hendersonville to Asheville and then Interstate 40 towards the East. We drove this rather uneventful direction until the city of Old Fort, North Carolina. The population of this town is less than 1000 people. Something we found to be interesting was that the town was small and quaint, no surprise there. But, an Ethan Allen facility was located there. It looked like a manufacturing and shipping facility. Nothing more of note, just a surprise among the local businesses and scenery.
While in Old Fort, we decided to take Curtis Creek Rd to get up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We began our journey up Curtis Creek Road and passed homes that filled both sides of the road. This was until we began to enter the forest and the road narrowed. We continued further and the road changed from paved to gravel.
Gravel roads are nothing new to the Nomads, so we continued on and we were rewarded for doing so. We began to drive within seeing distance of a rambling creek with many small waterfalls and areas of white water rushing upon small rocks. Mama Nomad could not stop commenting on how beautiful it was. And, in all honesty, she was right. The drive and the scenery was beautiful. We stopped along the way, as we do, at many places along the way and grabbed images and videos (if we had room to pull over).
Now, let me make this perfectly clear, I would not suggest going further than the camp ground area on Curtis Creek Road unless you are both accustomed to driving in semi-off road conditions, have a good comfort with heights and have four-wheel drive. Why?
Not too far after the last camp ground area, the road became about one and a half car widths wide, began to dramatically climb, has no guard rails to stop you from going over the steep drop offs at the edge of the road and the road u-turned its way back and forth up the mountain. The u-turns were so sharp that we could not see around the corners as we climbed. We drove about 5 miles an hour around the corners and strained our necks to make sure no one was coming down. Since it was raining, water was on the gravel road and parts of it were muddy. We engaged our four-wheel drive to further ensure we would not slip or slide as there was limited room to recover.
We eventually crested the harrowing drive and arrived at The Blue Ridge Parkway. I let out a big sigh of relief. I am not going to pretend about it, the drive up the vertical climbing park of Curtis Creek Road had me tense. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, you must be comfortable with semi-off road driving at heights and four-wheel drive is a strong suggestion if you are going to tackle Curtis Creek Road to get up to Mt Mitchell State Park.
Once we got onto The Blue Ridge Parkway, we were on a two lane well-kept, paved road. This was a piece of cake compared to what we just drove. We headed West toward the State Park until we came to Highway 128. This is the road you will want to take to get to Mt Mitchell State Park. It was still cold, rainy and windy. But, as we drove up the road, we saw a guy in running shorts, a running shirt and backpack jogging up a 7 or 8 degree incline. He had white hair and calf muscles that would probably rip jeans if he tried to put them on. We had enormous respect for this guy and I hope to be in as good as shape as him. At first I thought him to be nuts for being out in this. But, we were about to hike to the top in this. So what did that say for us. I guess we’re nuts too.
Now, there is a trail that you can hike that requires you to be a good mountain climber as some of the parts are very strenuous. The trail is about 6 miles up and 6 miles back down. We chose not to do the 12 mile round trip hike, in the cold, rain and wind. We drove to the highest point we could get to in Ebony and then we parked her. We put our coats and gloves on then jumped out and finished our journey on foot.
On the way to the top, you walk through and among some very beautiful scenery. The trees and moss on the ground are a very vibrant shade of green. It looked like a scene from a movie. It almost looked like it was fake. I can’t describe it. We had to stop and admire nature’s beauty. As we got past the initial set of trees, that were all taller than us, we began to see shorter and shorter trees. I assume this is because of the thinner air at the top.
The wind was still blowing rain onto and around us. Trevor, our youngest Nomad, said it sounded like the ocean. The way the wind roared through the trees sounded like the roll and crash of waves. It was surreal. There is a walkway and a look out platform at the top. As we walked up and looked around, we saw that we were in the clouds, literally. In every direction we saw thick blankets of white. But we trekked on and reached the top. We were wet, cold and tired. But we reached the pinnacle of Mt Mitchell at 6,684 feet of elevation.
As a side note, we chose a different route to go back on. One way on Curtis Creek Road was enough. We passed it and continued onto North Carolina 80 to head back down. It twisted and turned. But at least it was paved. And we saw some phenomenal views on the way down. One that struck me enough that I had to get out and capture on video. If you are within a few hundred miles of Mt Mitchell State Park, put it on your agenda to visit. Check the Mount Mitchell State Park Site for current climate and road conditions. Safe Travels.