Mount Mitchell: hiking to Mount Craig on the Deep Gap Trail (aka the Black Mountain Crest Trail)

Hike the Deep Gap Trail at Mount Mitchell State Park, trekking a ridgeline to beautiful views at Mount Craig, the second highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and the neighboring Big Tom Mountain.

 
 

Mount Mitchell’s soaring height badges it the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. It’s an ultra-popular stop just off the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville, known for stunning views and fantastic hiking trails through beautiful, rugged high-elevation forest. Thanks to the mountain’s lofty height, the air is often chilly, even in mid-summer months, making for some great, refreshing hiking weather.

Hike the Deep Gap Trail to beautiful views at the Mount Craig Summit in Mount Mitchell State Park

This hike on the Deep Gap Trail, aka the Black Mountain Crest Trail, departs near the Mount Mitchell summit and trails a ridgeline along the Black Mountain range, trailing a little over a mile (each way) to two neighboring summits. The hike trails through a lush, high-elevation forest that’s home to some rare and endangered plants, shaded by sweet-scented spruce and balsam fir trees. The Deep Gap Trail summits Mount Craig, the second-highest peak in the eastern US, before trailing to Big Tom Mountain, a rocky neighboring peak. At just over two miles, roundtrip, it’s a lofty adventure to some stunning summit views and through a lush, fern and moss-filled forest.

The Deep Gap Trail explores beautiful high-elevation forest on Mount Mitchell, Mount Craig and Big Tom Mountain

Mount Mitchell Deep Gap Trail to Mount Craig: the hike

The hike departs the Deep Gap trailhead on the northern edge of the summit parking area at Mount Mitchell State Park (view maps and driving directions), trailing through the park’s picnic area. Side trails spider from the Deep Gap Trail, leading to picnic tables and rustic picnic shelters set in a shady coniferous forest. (Side note: if you’re looking for a fantastic picnic spot, this one is prime: it’s easily one of the nicest, most scenic picnic areas we’ve visited in North Carolina.)

The Deep Gap Trail departs Mount Mitchell at the Mt Mitchell picnic area – one of our favorite scenic picnic spots in North Carolina

The Deep Gap Trail hikes northbound, descending the higher elevations of Mount Mitchell. The trail is well-worn and easy to follow, and blazed in sporadic triangular orange blazes. The air is crisp and clean, scented with the sweet smell of fir and spruce, and usually chilly. Temperatures here on the soaring Black Mountain ridge are often 10-20 degrees cooler than Asheville, so dress in layers – and pack a rain shell, as the weather changes quickly and frequently at these high elevations.

The hike reaches its lowest elevation, just under 6400 feet, in a small gap between Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig at .45 mile. The trail begins a nearly unrelenting climb to Mount Craig, climbing nearly 300 feet in the next third of a mile. Through-the-tree views extend on both sides of the trail.

The Deep Gap Trail treks from Mount Mitchell to Mount Craig, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville

The Deep Gap Trail summits Mount Craig at .85 mile. Wide panoramic views extend from the summit, with neighboring Mount Mitchell easily visible to the south. A bronze plaque marks the 6663-foot summit, named for former North Carolina Governor Locke Craig who was largely responsible for the establishment of Mount Mitchell State Park in the early 20th century. The summit is host to a number of endangered high-elevation plants – hikers should remain on the marked trail to avoid damaging the fragile, rare ecosystem.


The Deep Gap Trail veers to the northeast, descending from the Mount Craig summit. The trail rolls elevation, dipping down to 6550 feet before starting a short climb to Big Tom Mountain. The hike summits again at just over 1 mile, exploring the rocky outcrop at the top of Big Tom and catching limited, through-the tree views. A plaque dedicates the summit in the name of “Big Tom” Wilson, a guide and bear hunter who found the body of Elisha Mitchell in 1857. (Mitchell, a geologist, is known for accurately calculating Mount Mitchell’s height in 1835, and died on a later exploration after falling from a waterfall near the Mount Mitchell summit.)

The Deep Gap Trail hikes to Big Tom Mountain from Mount Mitchell, catching stunning summit views and visiting two neighboring mountain peaks in the Black Mountain range

From here, the Deep Gap Trail / Black Mountain Crest Trail continues a northbound journey on the Black Mountain ridgeline. This hike turns to retrace its steps, hiking southbound on the Deep Gap Trail and revisiting the Mount Craig summit. The hike descends Mount Craig, rolling elevation through the gap at 1.7 miles and climbs to the trailhead near Mount Mitchell’s summit, completing the hike at just over 2.1 miles.

More Mount Mitchell hiking adventure

The Deep Gap Trail pairs well with the nearby Mount Mitchell Summit and Balsam Nature Trail loop. The two trails, combined, trek 3 miles to three summits, catch some stunning views and trail through some exceptionally beautiful high-elevation forest. From the Deep Gap trailhead, climb the stairs to the north and hike through the parking lot to the paved Summit Trail. Or, for a longer adventure, hike the Old Mitchell Trail, Camp Alice Trail and Commissary Trail Loop, climbing through a rocky forest to Mitchell’s soaring summit, and then hiking to a small, tumbling waterfall and through wildflowers and wild berries on the way back to the trailhead.

 
 
 

Mount Mitchell to Mount Craig & Big Tom: Deep Gap Trail: Directions & Details

Parking

Free parking is available at Mount Mitchell State Park, located north of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 355. (Before you go, check for trail updates and parkway closures on the official Blue Ridge Parkway website.)

Please Remember

Always leave no trace and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

35.767350, -82.264683     //     N35 46.041 W82 15.881

Driving Directions


Elevation Profile

Mount Mitchell to Mount Craig & Big Tom: Deep Gap Trail Elevation Profile

Mount Mitchell to Mount Craig & Big Tom: Deep Gap Trail Map

Trail data and photos © Summit19 Studio LLC. This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
 
Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.

Eric is also a freelance writer, photographer and creative director.