On Top of the World

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, we were driving in and out of mist, at elevations at or around 3,000 feet, but we decided to pull off the parkway at Craggy Gardens.  Like every other “chance” we took on the Blue Ridge, Craggy Gardens was a wonderful experience!  Part of the Pisgah National Forest, this mountain is one  of the Craggy Mountains, a subrange of the Blue Ridge.  At 5,525 feet Craggy Gardens is among the higher peaks of the Blue Ridge.  The high slopes of the Great Craggies are covered with heath bald.  This means that the slopes are covered primarily with grasses and shrubs, in this case beautiful Catawba rhododendrons, wild blueberry bushes (pick your own!), clover and wildflowers.  Small hardwood trees of beech, buckeye, mountain ash and red oak grow at the lower elevations.  The summit is called a “blunt summit.”  There are no trees to block the view.

After a stop at the visitors center, we drove a bit further to the parking lot for the Craggy Garden Summit Hike.  We grabbed a jacket (in August!) and started up the path.   Wild flowers, ferns, mosses and lichens lined a lovely path which led through a rhododendron forest which promises to be glorious in late Spring!  After a light to moderate hike, not long, maybe 20 minutes or so, we reached the summit.

The mountain was wreathed in clouds.  There was a cool, damp mist and all was hushed.  We whispered, and listened to the wind!  As the clouds moved off, the sun brightened considerably, and the jackets came off!  The slopes around the stone parapets of the viewing area were covered with wildflowers, clover, shrubs and blueberry bushes.  After the quiet, we noticed a slight hum and then a gentle but persistent buzzing.   With the warmth of the sun, hundreds of bees and butterflies had begun feasting on nectar and pollen!

There is a 360° view at the summit.   The overlook provides a viewing area for each side of the peak and a few benches for resting and relishing the scenery.   The glistening Swannanoa River and the Black Mountains are quite visible to the East, with Mt. Mitchell to the North, and the rippling ridges and peaks of the Pisgah National Forest wrap around West and South.  It was a beautiful, serene, “mountain top” experience!  I would love to see it in late May, early June when the Catawba Rhododendrons are blooming!

From here we went to Mt. Mitchell!  Over one thousand feet higher than Craggy Gardens at 6,684 feet, Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, and one of the peaks of the Black Mountains.  More alpine in nature, the mountain’s climate resembles Canada more than North Carolina, and is home to the famous Frasier Firs.  Here is a link to a North Carolina State Park Teacher’s Guide and Educational Booklet relating to the unique climate at Mt. Mitchell.  We pulled into the Mt. Mitchell State Park, just off the Blue Ridge, and drove up to the parking lot, where there is a Visitor’s Center, a Gift Shop, and Education Center.  We (slowly) climbed the steep walkway to the pinnacle, but took very few pictures.  We were immersed in clouds (again!)!   Here is a website with some pictures of unclouded views.

Relaxing over a lovely view, on the back patio at the Mount Mitchell Restaurant.

We were just a little disappointed to miss the four-state view, but cheered up considerably with a wonderful lunch at the Mt. Mitchell State Park Restaurant.   A short drive from the Visitor’s Center, the restaurant also has a gift shop, as well as a large patio out back with rocking chairs!  From our table by the window we could see nothing higher than us, and enjoyed glimpses of the tree-clad peaks and sunny green valleys below as clouds thinned and moved past.

I will have a separate post with all of the flowers!   Here are a few photos:

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Thanks so  much for reading!

This is the latest post in a series about our wonderful summer vacation in the Blue Ridge!  Thank you so much for reading!  If you are interested in the other posts you’ll find them here:

We Set Out Accompanied by Wildflowers
Dipping Our Feet in the Ancient New River
Stumbling Over the Tanawha Trail
Wonder and Awe at Linville Falls
Relaxing on a Rock at Looking Glass Falls
Ice Cream at the Vanderbilts

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