August 2, 2015
Sometimes you stumble upon a hike that no one knows about. One that is perfect with beautiful trail conditions, foliage, views, great weather and strenuous climbs. One that where you encounter no tourists and no crowds. This is that hike.
Gracie and I turned from the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) onto NC-128, the entrance for Mt. Mitchell State Park. A ¼ mile up the hill is a parking area on the right-hand side of the road. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) intersects this spot. We went south to pick up the MST. As soon as you walk in the woods you enter a different realm of dark moss, ferns and evergreens. The trail changes direction after a ¼ mile and heads northwesterly for most of the hike. The trail is certainly rocky. This was no problem in dry weather, but in wetter times, it would be tricky.
The trail is immaculately kept by the Carolina Mountain Club (CMC). All the tall grass had been trimmed and the white blaze markings were clear.
After a mile you reach a rocky overlook and can see the BRP and Potato Knob. We didn’t stop here, but kept slugging upward for the next 2 miles. We passed Rainbow Gap and then saw a side trail. I decided to venture down the path, in case there was a view of the Black Mountains. I went a little ways and saw a white dome-like structure. I yelled hello, thinking it was a tent. As I inched closer I saw that it was metal. Rounding the bend, I saw an airplane, one that had been here a while.
After Rainbow Gap we had a hard climb up to the summit of Blackstock Knob (elevation: 6,319’). We then began a sharp descent to Balsam Gap via the switchbacks. We stopped briefly to have lunch at the Gap and then headed back to Mt. Mitchell via the BRP.
This hike is absolutely wonderful.
Total mileage is 11.3 miles.