Hike the Deep Gap Trail (aka the Black Mountain Crest 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.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 779 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
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.
This hike on the Deep Gap Trail (also known as 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 peaks. 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 hike 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, round trip, it’s a lofty adventure to some stunning summit views and through a lush, fern and moss-filled forest.
Deep Gap Trail: the hike
The hike departs from a 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 hike ventures northbound, descending the higher elevations of Mount Mitchell. The trail is well-worn and easy to follow, and marked with 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 hike 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.)
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 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
This hike pairs really 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.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Deep Gap Trail to Mount Craig & Big Tom: Map, Directions & Details
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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.)
35.767350, -82.264683 // N35 46.041 W82 15.881