Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mt Mitchell Summit and Balsam Nature Trail 5/28/2011

View from Mt Mitchell Summit Toward Mt Craig
The summit of Mt Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi and a cool place to be on a hot summer day.  The road to this state park is accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  About half way up the park road is a nice restaurant with great views from the dining room or the rocking chairs on the back porch.  At the end of the road is a large parking area with a snack bar, gift shop, and museum.  

 It is a short but steep walk on a paved path to the summit tower.  The old tower was replaced a few years ago by this new handicap accessible tower that blends well with the environment.  The low profile makes it harder to spot from the distance.  There are superb views in all directions.   On the way up you will pass the entrance to the Balsam Nature Trail on the left. 

After enjoying the views from the top we went part way back down  and took the Balsam Nature Trail.  This is a natural surface trail that is wet and rocky in places.  The first part passes through a dense forest of short firs that smells like Christmas.  Many of the trees on the mountain top look almost like bonsais due to the short growing season.  We could hear the sounds of birds and flies.

This area stays damp resulting in a lot of moss and other greenery.  It was almost June but the ferns were just opening up.  The trail is almost level and straight until a sharp left curve then moves downhill more quickly to a fork in the trail.  Straight ahead was the Mt Mitchell Trail heading down the mountain.  The nature trail turned left and became less steep.

This section of trail had trillium on it although we were too late for most of the blooms.  There are a lot of dead trees down along the sides of the trail.  The park policy is to leave all down wood alone unless it is a hazard to the trail.  We traveled gently downhill or level until almost the end of the walk.  There were some spots in the trail that were quite wet but we were able to step over or around them.

After the trail began the final uphill climb we took a short gravel surface side trail right and downhill to the spring.   At the bottom there is short boardwalk with a wood deck and bench.  You can relax and listen to the spring water bubbling out of the earth.  From the spring it is a very short uphill walk to the trail end in the lower section of the parking lot.

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