Exploring North Carolina’s Black Mountain Crest Trail

The Black Mountain Crest Trail is renowned as the toughest trail on the East Coast.

Why? In summary:

Seven six thousand foot peaks in just under eleven miles.

Hike North to South and you’ll end your hike at Mount Mitchell – the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Gain and lose over six thousand feet of elevation along the way.

Want to break up your hike? Hope you can do it in two days because there is only one spot to camp and one reliable water source along the way.

Begin at the small two car parking area off Bowlen’s Creek Road, just outside of Burnsville, North Carolina. The trail begins as an old road, wide and graveled. Settle in to that burning sensation in your legs, because you will continue to climb for 3,000 feet and around five miles.

view from celo

After gaining the crest, take in the view of the remaining Black Mountain Crest Trail.

If you choose, you can take the obvious spur trail that will take you up a bit further to the true summit of Celo Knob.

black mountain crest sunrise

After gaining the crest and Celo Knob, immediately drop and begin to climb into a spectacular highland field from which the true summit of Gibbs Mountain is easily accessible by a short bushwack.

winter star

The path to Winter Star seems almost flat after the unforgiving gains and losses of the Crest. The summit of Winter Star is just off trail, and evidently marked by the USGS.

From Winter Star, the trail descends steeply for a little over a half a mile into Deep Gap. If you choose to break up your trip into two days, Deep Gap is the only spot at which camping is allowed along the Black Mountain Crest Trail.

Additionally, Deep Gap is the source of reliable water along the trail, other than its two terminus. Naturally, to access the water source requires a short but steep descent down the Colbert Ridge Spur trail.

After ascending out of Deep Gap, the Crest trail will lead you, in quick succession, over Cattail Peak, Balsam Cone, and finally to Mount Craig.

This is the most difficult and most beautiful section of the hike.

The Crest carves through sections of deep, dark forests, and extends onto open cliff faces.

Cattail Peak

It also crosses some spectacularly difficult terrain. At points there are ropes to assist you in your ascents. It is a knee breaking,thigh stinging section of technical trail.


And the vistas are worth it.

The summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, is accessible by car for most of the year. When the trail flattens and widens from the tread of many feet wandering around the summit, you’ll know you are close to the end the Crest trail – Mount Mitchell.

Compared to the rest of the rugged trail, the climb to Mount Mitchell is largely uneventful. But the view from atop the observation tower anything but ordinary.


The Black Mountain Crest Trail may be the toughest trail in the East – but it’s worth every step.

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Comments 4

  • Blitzo : Jan 1st

    They run a 10K and 50K race over that ridge trail. I can vouch for the effort required. My second mile split was 41 minutes for one mile. That’s no pack, no water, no gear of any kind… and I was running… ish. I spend a lot of time in that area and love it.

    • Caet Cash : Jan 9th

      YES! The Mount Mitchell Challenge and the Quest for the Crest! It’s a great training ground for trail running and for hiking. The Crest makes you work for it, but the views are beyond worth it!

  • Nichole : Jan 14th

    Challenge accepted 🙂


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