Black Mountains

Range TypeMountain range with well-recognized name
Highest PointMount Mitchell (6684 ft/2037 m)
CountriesUnited States
States/ProvincesNorth Carolina
Area226 sq mi / 585 sq km
Area may include lowland areas
Extent22 mi / 36 km North-South
20 mi / 32 km East-West
Center Lat/Long35° 51' N; 82° 21' W
Map LinkMicrosoft Bing Map

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The Black Mountains, a small range of little renown, is the highest group of mountains in eastern North America. Mount Mitchell (6684'), in the middle of the range, is the apex of the entire Appalachians and is a better-known landmark than the range itself.

The Black Mountains are a relatively short crest (15 miles long) that is joined to the main Blue Ridge Mountains. They are a long way from the much more famous Great Smokies, which are often assumed to be higher. The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the southern part of the range and is the main route in for most visitors. This range's east slopes are part of Pisgah National Forest, and Mount Mitchell State Park covers a small area near its namesake. The name "Black Mountains" comes from the thick forests of dark spruce and fir that blanket the peaks to their very tops.

The Black Mountain crest begins abruptly south of Burnsville, NC, rising over 3000 feet to Celo Knob (6327'), then continues south, dropping below 5800 feet only once for the next twelve miles. Horse Rock (6200') and Gibbs Mountain (6200') are the next minor bumps on the ridge, and Winter Star Mountain (6203'), with its subpeak Deer Mountain (6080'), is the next major summit. The crest then drops to well-named Deep Gap (5300'), its low point. Moving south, subpeaks Potato Hill (6440') and Cattail Peak (6583') are the prelude to Balsam Cone (6611'), and beyond that Big Tom (6558') guards the northern flank to Mount Craig (6647'), the second highest peak in eastern North America, just north of the highest, Mount Mitchell. The ridge from Celo Knob to Mount Mitchell is not paralleled by a road, and the Deep Gap trail, the highest in the Appalachians, runs along its crest, with some views through the trees at some of the summits. This is probably the nicest hike in the Blacks. Mount Mitchell and its summit road mark that start of the more developed southern part of the Black Mountains, where paved roads pass near the summits.

South of Mount Mitchell a spur road parallels the Black Mountain crest past minor Mount Hallback (6300'), Mount Gibbes (6520'-not to be confuesed with Gibbs Mountain further north) and Clingmans Peak (6520'-not to be confused with Clingmans Dome in the Smokies). Near Potato Knob (6400'-not Potato Hill further north) the Mount Mitchell spur road joins the Blue Ridge Parkway, which follows the crest as it suddenly turns northwest over Blackstock Knob (6320') to Balsam Gap (5400'), where the Black Mountains end.

That is a total of seven main 6000 foot peaks, sixteen including subpeaks. From Celo Knob to Potato Knob, the main section of the Black Mountains, they rise directly from valleys on either side, usually over 3000 feet. From Potato Knob a high ridge connects the Black Mountains to the Blue Ridge at the Pinnacle (5666'), which the Blue Ridge Parkway uses to leave its namesake ridge for good and start its abbreviated journey over the short southern stretch of the Blacks.

Stretching southwest from Balsam Gap as sort of an extension of the Black Mountains is the long, high ridge of the Great Craggy Mountains. Not particularly great or craggy, they do boast Craggy Dome (6080') as a high point; Craggy Pinnacle (5850'), a popular and scenic hike from the Blue Ridge Parkway; and Craggy Gardens, an area where spectacular rhododendron flowers bloom in spring. The Blue Ridge Parkway uses the Great Craggies, as well as various low forested ridges such as Bull Mountain and the Elk Mountains, to descend to Asheville, NC.

Over 90% of visitors to the Black Mountains drive their cars on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Mount Mitchell spur road, most leaving their cars only at the Mount Mitchell parking lot. That is a shame, since away from the roads there is some nice backcountry. Even though the Black Mountains do not have the vast wilderness areas of ranges like the Great Smokies, White Mountains, or the Rockies, there are nice hiking trails that are often less crowded than ones in more famous areas. So while there are no rocky summit pinnacles, above-treeline tundra, or even any open "Balds" in the crowning range of the eastern North American mainland, it still invites exploration.

Map of Black Mountains
Click on red triangle icons for links to other ranges.

Note: Range borders shown on map are an approximation and are not authoritative.
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Other Ranges: To go to pages for other ranges either click on the map above, or on range names in the hierarchy snapshot below, which show the parent, siblings, and children of the Black Mountains.
Central Blue Ridge RangesLevel 4 (Parent)
         Black MountainsLevel 5
         Great Craggy MountainsLevel 5 (Sibling)
         Newfound Mountain RegionLevel 5 (Sibling)
         Plott BalsamsLevel 5 (Sibling)
         Great Balsam MountainsLevel 5 (Sibling)
         Cowee MountainsLevel 5 (Sibling)
         Cheoah MountainsLevel 5 (Sibling)
         Nantahala MountainsLevel 5 (Sibling)

Major Peaks of the Black Mountains

Ten Highest Peaks
RankPeak NameftmRange6
1.Mount Mitchell66842037 
2.Mount Craig66472026 
3.Commissary Ridge6640+2024+ 
4.Cattail Peak6600+2012+ 
5.Balsam Cone6600+2012+ 
6.Big Tom6560+1999+ 
7.Mount Gibbes6520+1987+ 
8.Clingmans Peak6520+1987+ 
9.Potato Hill64751974 
10.Potato Knob6400+1951+ 
Sub-peaks are excluded from this list. List may not be complete, since only summits in the PBC Database are included.

Photos of Peaks in the Black Mountains

Mount Mitchell

A very misty day on the highest peak in the Eastern United States, Mount Mitchell (1984-08-18).
Mount Craig
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The Black Mountain crest between Mount Mitchell and Deep Gap. Photo by Todd Grey (2007-02).
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Cattail Peak
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Mt Craig and the Black Mountain Crest from Mt Mitchell (2014-05-20).
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Balsam Cone
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Balsam Cone is the peak just to the left of the blow down which is on top of Big Tom. (2013-04-23). Photo by Bruce Hicks.
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Big Tom
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Plaque on top of Big Tom (2012-10-14). Photo by Bruce Hicks.
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Mount Gibbes
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NC Geodetic Survey benchmark on Mt. Gibbes (2015-07-06). Photo by Bryan Marchant.
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Mount Hallback
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Mt. Hallback summit sign (2021-06-21). Photo by Jason Crane.
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Celo Knob
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view from summit of Celo Knob (2014-05-17). Photo by Marcus Lostracco.
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Blackstock Knob
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Foggy day at the summit (2022-11-05). Photo by Mason Erman.
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Winter Star Mountain
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Winter Star Mountain 6203 feet. Viewed from Gibbs Mnt looking south towards Winter Star Mnt. Deer Mnt on right (2022-07-02). Photo by Steven Fishback.
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