North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures
Help Protect the Vulnerable Wildlands of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests

Black Mountains

Black Mountains

Approximate size: 17,906 acres

Roadless acreage: 14,779 acres (10,663-Balsam Cone; 4,116-Bearwallow)

Old growth acreage: 3,063 acres

Location: Yancey County, NC, 10 miles southeast of Burnsville; Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest

USGS Topographic Maps: Mt. Mitchell, Celo, Montreat, Old Fort

The Black Mountains area is one of the premier wild expanses in North Carolina. Forming the eastern flank of Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains Range, the area is considered part of the Black Mountains Conservation Area, which includes several roadless areas, Mountain Treasure areas and other public lands. The nearby Asheville Watershed and the Cane River Hunt Club lands add to the wildness of the surrounding area.

Within the area are 14,779 acres inventoried as roadless. The area is adjacent to Mount Mitchell State Park which includes another 630 acres of inventoried roadless area.

The Black Mountains have long been considered a prime candidate for protection. A measure of their beauty and richness is the fact that they were part of a larger area proposed for national park status in the early 1970s. But because of political obstacles and local community concerns, mostly based on misinformation, the area has remained largely unprotected. Fortunately, much of it is classified as unsuitable for timber management. The Black Mountain (Middle Creek) Research Natural Area protects 1,711 acres in two tracts.

Fraser fir. Photo by Lamar Marshall.

Part of the South Toe River basin, the area has unique high-elevation communities including virgin spruce-fir forest at upper elevations. The State of North Carolina has identified three Natural Heritage areas within the Black Mountains area. Numerous rare species occur, including disjunct species typically found hundreds of miles further north.

These species include mountain paper birch, the Appalachian cottontail (once called the New England cottontail, the species has been reclassified in the Southern Appalachians), and arctic bentgrass, all very unusual in this portion of the Southern Appalachians. UNESCO recently designated the adjacent Mount Mitchell State Park, which has similar rare species and communities, a biosphere reserve to recognize and protect these unique values.

The Black Mountain range is the highest and one of the most impressive–perhaps even unique–mountain massifs in the Eastern United States. Mt. Mitchell is the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet above sea level.

Seven main peaks (16 if you count subpeaks) are over 6,000 feet in elevation along the Black Mountain Ridge, and the ridge drops below 5,800 feet only once along its 12-mile length. The challenging Black Mountain Crest Trail traversing the crest of this ridge is the highest trail in the entire Appalachian Mountains.

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