Spring into Winter - Asheville to Mt Mitchell in May

The entrance to Mt Mitchell State Park

On the first of May the restaurant on Mt Mitchell opens for the season. On the fourth of May, I rode from Asheville to Mt Mitchell for the first time this year. These two events are directly connected. There is more than a mile of climbing in the 32 miles from my house to the restaurant, and after doing that much work I really appreciate a good meal! In fact, I don't like to ride up to Mt Mitchell when I can't eat at the restaurant because the ride home is so much harder when I haven't had a good meal and several cups of coffee.

This trip was also special for two other reasons: It was the biggest climb I have done since having knee surgery in December and it was the first time in more than three years that I was meeting my friend Don Patterson at the restaurant.

Don and I met when he was running the restaurant and I was bicycling up there pretty much every week. I haven't been in Asheville much in the summer for the last eight years, but, when I was here and the restaurant was open, I would ride up there to meet Don for lunch. Don stopped running the restaurant 6 six years ago, but we continued meeting there till three years ago. The restaurant was run by an unpleasant fellow for the last three years, and both Don and I boycotted it. Now it has a new, and very good, manager and a great new menu, so I was really looking forward to getting back.

Climbing Town Mountain Road headed for the Parkway

Spring on Town Mountain road at about 3000 feet above sea level

Mt Mitchell State Park is located about 30 miles from Asheville. It is also almost a mile higher than Asheville so spring at the Park happens a lot later than spring in Asheville. We last had snow in Asheville more than a month ago, but it snowed on Mt Mitchell on May 3rd. The low temperature that day was in the upper 30s in Asheville and the high single digits on Mt Mitchell. In about three weeks,hundreds of riders will take part in the Assault on Mt Mitchell. They stand a better than 25% change of riding into sleet or snow on their way to the the top!

I rode Town Mountain Road to the Parkway at Craven Gap. Town Mountain climbs about 1300 feet from Asheville and then descends about 300 feet to the Parkway. In Asheville the dogwoods are losing their flowers, but at the high points on Town Mountain they are just coming into bloom.

On the Parkway at 3500 feet looking at 5000 feet - spring fading into winter

A few miles up the Parkway, having climbed back to 3500 feet, I can look ahead to see the bare trees at the tops of the mountains ahead. I'll be climbing gradually to about 5700 feet over the next half a dozen miles, watching the trees 'loose' their leaves. At 5000 feet on the beginnings of buds are to be seen.

The notch in the ridge in the middle is the Parkway at 5100 feet some five miles ahead

The edge of spring at about 4500 feet

Mt Mitchell from the notch - the first place you can see Mt Mitchell from the Parkway
Mt Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern US, is at the center of this image

Looking west from Craggy toward Tennessee

This image looking east from Craggy, looking down from winter into spring

After riding about 20 miles from Asheville, I reached the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center at 5500 feet. There are great views down into valleys on either side of the ridge where the center is located. Looking to the east you see Asheville's reservoir. looking to the west you can see all the way to the mountains at the NC/Tennessee border.

Climbing toward the highest point on the Parkway north of Asheville

After Craggy, there is a long downhill to about 5200 feet, then a climb back up to 5750 feet. That is the highest point on the Parkway north of Asheville. Then they Parkway descends, in three sections separated by slight uphills, to 5200 feet at NC 128, the road up Mt Mitchell.

Looking down at the Parkway where 128 goes off - it is definitely winter up here

Heading up 128 toward Mt Mitchell

The climb up 128 to Mt Mitchell State Park is pretty steep - 8 - 9 % and lasts for about a mile and a half. I stopped at the restaurant today, and did not ride the rest of the way to the top. I'll be back in a few weeks for the Assault, so that last 600 feet of climbing can wait. Don and I had an excellent dinner at the restaurant and I made it back to Asheville at sundown.