Filed under: Activities & Attractions, Historic Places & Landmarks, Nature & Wildlife, Other Great RV Routes, Outdoor Recreation & Hiking, Roads & Routes, Scenic Byways/Historic Routes, State & National Parks
Mount Mitchell Drive Receives Scenic Byway Designation
The Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive is the latest route to receive an official “scenic byway” designation from the state of North Carolina.
Recognized for its outstanding beauty and unique cultural features, this 52-mile drive begins atop 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi and traverses a national forest, state park, and National Park Service land.
“It’s a beautiful corridor for a number of reasons,” says Jeff Lackey, manager of scenic byways for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). ”It has scenic quality, and also a tremendous amount of cultural and historical aspects, which is rare in a byway experience.”
“When you go around every curve, you’ll find something new and interesting,” says Wanda Proffitt, a local DOT board member and advocate of the route.
The route begins on N.C. 128 in Yancey County atop Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States with an elevation of 6,684 feet and one of 16 peaks over 6,000 feet tall which make up the Black Mountain Range which was formed more than a billion years ago. Six peaks in the small range are among the ten highest in the eastern United States.
Because of the altitude, many of the plants and animals are like those native to alpine environments of Canada. Mount Mitchell State Park was established to return the mountains to nature and intercede in the exploitation of the industrial scale lumbering that was destroying the East’s tall summits.
From the park, the scenic drive follows the Blue Ridge Parkway, which offers expanding vistas of the Black Mountains. The drive then descends into the South Toe River Valley, continuing into Burnsville and dropping some 4,500 feet in elevation. Homesteads, farms, pastures, churches, and small communities dot the landscape in this rural area of Yancey and Madison counties.
The Toe River Valley is the cultural heart of the Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive. It’s an area full of artist studios and quilt trails. Some of the best-known glass blowers on the East Coast are located in the Celo community, just off N.C. 80.
Visitors will also notice colorful squares hanging on the sides of barns and businesses along the route. Part of the Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina, they represent different quilting patterns that reflect the heritage of the area where they are located.
The route passes Town Square—a one-acre green space—and continues down the Main Street of Burnsville, a Norman Rockwell kind of place with plenty of shops and restaurants.
The Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive follows several sections of road:
- 4.9 miles of N.C. 128
- 11.3 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway
- 13.4 miles of N.C. 80
- 3.8 miles of U.S. 19 East
- 2 miles of East Main Street in Burnsville
- 16.6 miles of U.S. 19 East into Madison County
The byway ends at the intersection of U.S. 19/23 and Interstate 26 north of Mars Hill.
As part of its new designation as a scenic byway, the Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive will be marked by official NCDOT Scenic Byway signs and included in NCDOT’s Scenic Byways Guide, which provides information on all 54 scenic byways in North Carolina.
Tips for Visiting Mount Mitchell
- Bring a jacket or an extra layer of clothes. Temperatures are usually 10-30 degrees cooler than Asheville. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Take rain gear along if you are hiking.
- Eight out of ten days, the summit is covered in clouds and fog.
- Allow plenty of driving time to reach Mount Mitchell (at least one hour from Asheville). The entrance is from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the traffic can be slow, especially on the weekends.
- The restaurant, exhibit hall, and gift shop are open May through October.
- The park is open year-round; however, sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway close during much of the winter between Asheville and Mount Mitchell. During most of the winter, the only route is taking the Parkway south from N.C. Highway 80. Clear winter days can provide the longest views, but the wind and frigid temperatures can be unbearable.
Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive
Mount Mitchell State Park
Rising more than a mile high and surrounded by the gentle mist of low-hanging clouds, Mount Mitchell State Park is an extraordinary place.
Mailing address: 2388 State Highway 128, Burnsville, NC 28714
Phone: (828) 675-4611
Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,
—Gus Kahn, 1922
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