Mount Mitchell, located about 35 miles northeast of Ashville, in North Carolina's Black Mountains is the highest peak in the US east of the Mississippi River. It is linked to Clingmans Dome, the third highest peak in the US east of the Mississippi at 6,643', via the Blue Ridge Parkway National Scenic Drive. Mount Mitchell is part of the Black Mountain Crest which includes 6 other peaks above 6300' nearby, including Mount Craig, the second highest peak in the US east of the Mississippi at 6,645'. The summit is inside the Mount Mitchell State Park while many approach trails (including the Mount Mitchell Trail) start in the Pisgah National Forest. During the summer months, you can expect a variety of wildflowers to be in bloom. Trout fishing is also popular in the creeks that run off the Black Mountain Crest.
In the early 20th century, the mountain was heavily logged by several logging companies including Brown Bothers, Carolina Spruce, Dickey and Campbell, and Perley and Crockett (the largest). As part of the process, the slopes of the Black Mountains were denuded of most trees which were transported by railroad to Pensacola, NC to the west and Black Mountain, NC to the south. Narrow gauge railroad lines had been laid up on both sides of the mountain from both places. Logging was replaced by state park through the work of John Silcox Holmes (for whom Holmes State Forest is named) and Locke Craig. Holmes was appointed state forester for the North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey in 1909 and prepared a report on the forest conditions, however, logging continued until Craig was elected governor in 1913 and through their work, the State of NC passed a bill on March 3, 1915 to create a park on Mount Mitchell, likely the first state or federal park in the Southeast US.
Visitor access by railroad was available during the logging years and initial years of the park from Black Mountain, NC by Pearley and Crockett. In 1922 the tracks were replaced by a toll road and finally replaced by the Blue Ridge Parkway from Buck Creek Gap to Black Mountain Gap in 1939.
SUMMIT ROAD FROM SOUTH: Take I-40 to exit 86 connecting with NC SR-226 to Marion / Shelby. From here turn left on to the Blue Ridge Parkway. At mile marker 355 turn north on NC SR-128 and drive into the park where you will enter the park, pass the Mount Mitchell State Park Office, and reach the summit parking lot a bit farther.
SUMMIT ROAD FROM NORTH: Take US-19E to Micaville and turn south on NC SR-80 heading south. Turn right and head south on the Blue Ridge Parkway reaching NC SR-128 at mile marking 355. From here drive north into the Mount Mitchell State Park as described above.
The easiest way to the summit is to drive up to about 100' below the summit and then walk up a paved path.
In general there's not much red tape here unless you want to camp where you'll need a permit inside the Mount Mitchell State Park and need to pay a fee at the Black Mountain Campground.
The Mount Mitchell State Park has walk-in and primitive / backpack campsites that are available for use year round. There are differing rates for the high season and the winter season so check the park website for the latest information.
A popular campground in Pisgah National Forest is the Black Mountain Campground (50 Black Mountain Campground Road, Burnsville, NC 28714) which is a first-come first-serve, fee campground that is open between April 14 and November 1.
Black bears are prevalent in this area so bear proof your campsite. Bear bagging still appears to be effective here.