Just 100 miles from Franklin is Mt.Mitchell, which at 6684’ is the highest point east of the Rockies. The drive on the Blue Ridge Parkwayis beautiful, especially in fall. You can either enter the Parkway after Asheville, or take a longer ride by starting at the Waynesville entrance. Early on a cold morning is the best time to take pictures of the mist as it is still settled in its bed between the mountains. The rising fog may not burn off from the higher overlooks until noon.
On a clear day, visitors can see almost 85 miles. The blue mountains gradually fade into the horizon as the mist rises to meet the sky, creating an illusion of never-ending hills from here to forever. Mica glitters like diamond dust in the rough rocks that struggle to survive the wind and rain at this altitude. The elements have created their own bonsai trees that cling to the cliffs.
People are different on top of the world. Does awe remind a person of his own minuteness? Or maybe no one is an atheist in the face of so much creation. The clouds sweep up one side of the ridge, arch over your head, and pour down the other side as a waterfall. If you close your eyes and lift your face to them, you can imagine for just a fleeting second how the eagle soars.
The climate on top of Mt.Mitchell closely resembles that of Canada, and many of the plants and animals are like more northern species. The trail to the top gives a close look at the white skeletons of trees that are stark against the dark green of the pines at this elevation. An insect called the Balsam Woolly Adelgid is responsible for most of the tree loss, with air pollution and acid rain finishing the job. The top of Mt.Mitchell is often covered in fog that can be as acidic as vinegar. Established in 1915 ,Mt. Mitchell was the first state park. The peak was named for Elisha Mitchell, a UNC science professor who first measured the elevations of the Black Mountains. In 1844 he figured the height at 6672’, only 12’ short of modern calculations. When a controversy was raised concerning his measurements, Dr. Mitchell returned to the mountains in 1857 to verify his measurements. He fell off a 40’ waterfall and drowned in the water below. His body is now buried on top of the mountain.
Directions from Franklin: Hwy 23 north to Dillsboro; right to I-40 through Asheville; past Asheville, take exit for Blue Ridge Parkway; 2 miles up the Parkway is the Folk Art Center which is the halfway point of the trip and a good place to stop; continue on the Parkway to NC 128 at miles marker #355; follow 128 to the top of Mt. Mitchell; observation tower is a steep .2 mile hike from parking lot, but views are excellent from parking area and visitors center; use Hwy 80 in the winter when Parkway is closed