Dirty Shoes

everything is more fun when you get dirty

Black Mountains: Mount Craig


20130525_150235Type: Loop
Length: 14.7 (including the out-and-back to White Star)
Elevation Gain: >5,000 Feet
Time: 9 hours, including lunch
Grade: B+
Parking Lot

I’ve hiked to the top of Mount Mitchell: A roughly 17-mile loop that approaches what is really a knob from the south. Once we reached 5,500 feet, we entered a fir and red spruce forest that blew my mind. The well-worn trail was surrounded by bright green moss and red spruce, giving the light a magical quality. I half-expected pixies to fly out of the trees and sprinkle more fairy dust (mica) onto the sparkly trail.

But once we hit the top, the trail exited onto asphalt. From here, if one is really tired, he or she can take a golf cart to the summit, where there is an observatory tower. Head down to road to find restrooms, a concession stand and a parking lot. I even overheard a tourist say that they “really ought to do something about this bug problem.”

The Black Mountains are the the highest on the east coast and can be really rugged. So, on this trip to Asheville, we really wanted to get onto the Blacks while avoiding tourists on our hike — we get enough of them in Washington! We decided on a 14.5 mile loop from the west, to Mount Craig, the knob above Mitchell, expecting to avoid the Mitchell traffic; but we were wrong. This is a real challenging hike with over 5,000 feet of elevation gain, but the ridge was crowded with ATVs and tourists who started at the Mount Mitchell parking lot. The tourists are the worst because most of them lack any trail etiquette skills. Yeah, if you’ve started from the parking lot, I’m judging you right now. So, solitude hovers right above 0 for this hike, but the crowd can probably be avoided if you choose to do this hike in the winter or on a weekday.

We created this hike using the Trails Illustrated map for Linville Gorge/ Mount Mitchell.

Before starting the hike, head to City Bakery in downtown Asheville. Be sure to get there roughly 5 minutes before they open, when a short line will probably already have formed. Get a bagel, easily one of the best bagels you’ll ever have, a cold sandwich to carry in your pack, and one or two of their fruit granola bars (we always get strawberry or raspberry). The best thing about visiting Asheville is how good you’ll eat/drink — even when hiking!


Colbert, indicating exactly where you’ll feel this section.

Colberts Ridge Trail

Follow for 3.6 miles. Turn right on the Black Mountain Crest Trail to Summit White Star Mountain (adds one mile) or turn left toward Mount Craig.

The trailhead for the Colberts Ridge Trail was roughly an hour from downtown Asheville via I-26 and routes 19 and 80. Turn right on Colbert’s Creek Road and the parking lot was on the right. There was only space for 4 vehicles. The yellow-blazed Colbert Ridge Trail is easy to follow, but it’s a difficult, steady climb with 3,000 feet in 3.6 miles. If you prefer an easy climb and steep descent, you can do this loop in reverse, but I’d rather work on the way up. From there, we turned right to summit White Star mountain. This out-and-back section of the ridge was empty and windy, we put our long-sleeved shirts back on — in May! White Star offered some great views, and it was only a half mile from the turn. This section offered an extra 500 feet of elevation gain, just in case 4,500 feet isn’t enough for you!

After, we returned to Colberts Trail but continued straight on the Black Mountain Crest Trail.


Black Mountain Crest Trail

Continue 2.7 miles to Mount Craig. Retrace steps to Big Tom trail, follow and turn left to connect to the Buncombe Horse Trail.

The Crest Trail is not a a fast ridge trail: The footing is tricky and it’s the epitome of undulating. It’s also really crowded. Between Colberts Ridge and Mount Craig, there are several knobs to summit, which was really quite fun. Note the Big Tom trail on your left, which you will take to the Buncombe Horse Trail. We took the ridge trail all the way to Mt. Craig and then headed back to the Big Tom trail and turned right. The Big Tom trail was a very steep descent to Buncombe.

20130525_114048Buncombe Horse Trail

Continue 6.3 miles on Buncombe Horse Trail. Follow gravel road to Colbert’s Creek Road. Turn right and take first left to stay on Colbert’s Creek Road. Continue to parking lot.

This section of the Buncombe horse trail was, at times, very rough. There were sections through berry bushes and rhododendron that were super tight (Those berries might be a bit dangerous in the summer!), which made the trail slow. This was a long section, but a nice, gradual downhill. It’s a shame that such a  beautiful hike has to end on a road, but man will you be happy to see it!


Done with the hike. Head to Jack in the Wood for a burger or White Duck Taco (call ahead, they have odd hours and can run out of food.) Then, I suggest drinking deer and eating chocolate until you’ve passed out. You deserve it.

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2 thoughts on “Black Mountains: Mount Craig

  1. Beautiful photos and views! The last time I was near this area, it was cloudy and rainy so it’s nice to see what it looks like under clear blue skies. Lovely!

  2. Its difficult to find knowledgeable individuals on this topic, but you sound like you know what youre talking about! Thanks
    liam http://www.kiwibox.com/buglegame16/blog/entry/108212311/6-thoughts-should-certainly-be-asked-around-ckd/?pPage=0

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