It is usually hard for me to pick something that is “my favorite” anything, because I like so many things, but with campgrounds it is pretty easy. After almost 50 years of camping in North Carolina, there is but one: Black Mountain National Campground, on the Upper S. Toe River, at the bottom of Mt. Mitchell. I say bottom, but the campground is at 3020 feet above sea level.
One reason this one is so nice is its location. It is in Pisgah National Forest, not far from Asheville, close to Mt. Mitchell, close to Spruce Pine, close to Linville Gorge, close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, close to the Toe River, and the Nolichucky River. It is kind of in the middle of everything I like in the Tar Heel mountains. It is also less than a three hour drive from the Triangle Area, and, it is beautiful.
Black Mountain National Campground is named for the Black Mountains, of which, Mt. Mitchell is the tallest. There are 46 primitive campsites, that are first -come-first-serve: no reservations. There are only two with electric hook-ups, so you will not have to worry about the RV crowd.
For larger groups, there are six group campsites, each for up to 50 campers. It is open from April to October. There are fire rings, picnic tables and tent pads.
There is water, and there are bathrooms with hot showers. Firewood and ice are available for s price. Some of the sites are on the South Toe River. If you are into fishing the Upper S. Toe is a natural trout stream, and parts of the lower S. Toe are stocked streams. If the water is up, it is quite possible to launch your canoe or kayak at the campground and have a pleasant trip 6 or 8 miles down the river. Most of the time, you will have to canoe down around Spruce Pine, or Bandana, where there are moderately challenging rapids, and good scenery.
For many non-kayakers, the hiking trails are the charm. From the campground, you can hike the 5.6 mile trail to the top of Mt. Mitchell, (6684 elevation), the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
One of my friends, in the old days, hiked up the mountain to watch the sunset, while we were kayaking, forgetting that it would be dark after the sunset, and then had serious trouble getting back to the campground. He spent the night on the mountain. Of course, there are other trails around Black Mountain.
One is the Lost Cove Ridge Trail, 3.3 miles, very steep, that goes up to the Green Knob Lookout Tower on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A less stressful trail is the Devil’s Den Trail, which is a loop and is less than a mile, very scenic, and a great starter trail. There is even a bike trail, the Briar Bottom Bike Trail, a 1.2 mile loop trail that begins and ends at the Toe R. Bridge. There really is something for everyone.
If you are not biker, a hiker, or a kayaker, and it is fall leaf season, you can drive from Black Mountain Campground to the Parkway, and on to the top of Mt. Mitchell. The vistas from the overlook are breath-taking. There is a museum, and a snack bar. On the way, you can stop at Crabtree Falls and walk down to the falls, which are beautiful.
This part of the Parkway has many overlooks and pullovers that are awe-inspiring, and depending on the time of year, full of flowers or colorful leaves. The Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway is a nice drive, at 52 miles long, with many scenic vistas. Google it.
It is a short drive to Linville Gorge, where you can hike, or just marvel at Linville Falls. Kayakers look at it and try to figure out the best way to run it. (Hint: There is not a best way). Grandfather Mountain is close by, if you want a real tourist treat. I like antique and junk shops, and Spruce Pine has a few of these, if that interests you. Usually, if I was paddling, I did not have time for these, but occasionally I enjoyed an hour or two looking at things that the early settlers might have built or brought. Each to his own, I guess.
This part of North Carolina has always seemed charming to me. I drive through and ask myself, how can anyone make a living and stay here. There was mining here, there is farming here, perhaps even a little moonshining. I am not a native, but I have learned to appreciate this part of NC, just by traveling there and seeing things. Did you know there is a place in NC called Little Switzerland? This is where the wealthier folks from the warmer, flatter, parts of NC could escape the heat of the sum mer, and be cool in the NC mountains.
Two of my best memories about camping in NC come from Black Mountain. One nigh I saw a deer walk through the campground, wearing a collar. I never knew whose deer that was. Another night I had had a bit too much to drink, and about 3 a.m. I was sitting on a picnic table trying to get my stomach to settle down, and I heard a rustling noise. Suddenly, between my feet, there walked a skunk. He kept walking, and I kept holding my breath. All was well, but Black Mountain National Campground had another fan for life.
Black Mountain National Campground, 828-675-5616, 50 Black Mountain Campground Rd., Burnsville, NC 28714. Single site, up to 8 people, costs $22, 2 cars. Double site $44, 4 cars, 4 tents, 16 people. Electric sites, $29.