Colbert Ridge to Mount Mitchell to Maple Camp Ridge Loop

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Mount Mitchell State Park

Colbert Ridge to Mount Mitchell to Maple Camp Ridge Loop is a 18.1 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Burnsville, North Carolina that features a great forest setting. The trail is only recommended for very experienced adventurers and offers a number of activity options.

Length18.1 miElevation gain5144 ftRoute typeLoop
BackpackingCampingHikingNature tripsBird watchingrunningForestViews
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Reviews (16)
Photos (1188)
Recordings (3)
Completed (37)
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Haley Litton
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CampingGreat!Scramble
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James Beaumier
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HikingGreat!Muddy

If you do this clockwise (starting on Buncombe Horse Trail) the trail up to the ridge is less difficult, but there was a water crossing that I needed "water shoes" for. I saw no sign of recent horse travel. Also clockwise there is plenty of water on the way up. However once you pass Commissary Ridge campsite and join the Mt. Mitchell trail there is no water until you descend the ridge after a 1/2 mile. That 10 mile ridge hop IS spectacular. Yes that trail is difficult (been up and down it before). I like down much better! :-) This is a difficult hike, best in 2-days. Many people just drive to Mt. Mitchell and do the "ridge hop" from there...ok for them, but I like the challenge. Trail is generally very well maintained. There is a 1/2 mile walk on the road between the two trail-heads, but that was no big deal.

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Jake Veilleux
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BackpackingMuddyScrambleWashed out

Did this counterclockwise parking at the Colbert Ridge Trail Head. The Colbert Ridge Trail is TOUGH. Straight up and mostly washed-out or rock scrambles. However, the Crest Trail section from Deep Gap to Commissary Hill is incredible and offers plenty of great views (but limited water FYI). At Mount Mitchell, you have to take the Balsam Nature Loop (on the way up to the peak) to get to Mount Mitchell Trail, which brings you to Commissary Hill. Good campsite, lots of open space and access to water a short ways down Buncombe Horse Trail. Buncombe Horse Trail was a mud pit and mostly downhill in forest, but about a mile after leaving Commissary Hill, there’s a small opening to your right with a spectacular view, especially early in the AM. Maple Ridge Camp also has some grassy openings to take a break (keep walking past BHT sign for about 20ft and there’s big opening with a view). Tough loop, but definitely worth it for that middle ~10 mile portion.

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Jaxon Smith
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Definitely longer than 18.1. It was about 22 miles total

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Yates McConnell
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Hiking

An excellent trail for a backpacker who wants a challenge in a weekend. We hiked up Colbert Ridge on a friday night, and camped near Deep Gap. The water source close to the top was there, and we filled up after desperately needing it. Colbert Ridge trail is HARD. It kicked our butts, but was a good reward when we were done. The next day, we hiked Black Mountain Crest to Mt. Mitchell (also not easy, but not as bad as Colbert Ridge), and down the other side via Alice Camp to Buncombe Horse and the meadow campground, which was a beautiful place to spend the evening. Finally, we took Buncombe Horse back to the car the next day, needing to hike about a half mile along the road (right off of Buncombe Horse and then first left). Buncombe Horse is quite a trail, and I'd pay good money to watch someone do it on horseback. There's a very steep mile-long section especially that is largely just talus. Overall, though physically taxing, a great hike to push ourselves and get out there for a few days/nights!

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Mike OConnor
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Hiking

I ran/hiked the trail counterclockwise on 2/16. Lots of ice on the way up to Mount Mitchell and the Buncombe Horse trail was very muddy. I had no problem finding water and completed the trail just over 6 1/2 hours. Great views on the peaks along the way! I’d definitely do this trail again.

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Shelley Moore
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BackpackingRocky

My boyfriend and I completed this loop counterclockwise in two days and one night. We arrived at the Colbert Ridge trailhead Thursday March 28, and headed to camp at Deep Gap. It took us 3.5 hours to get there. Kicked our butts, for sure. About a mile (or less?) from Deep Gap there’s a nicely flowing stream—get water here for camp and climbs the next day—it was the only flowing water until 3-4 miles AFTER Mt. Mitchell. (Mitchell water is still turned off, and bathrooms are locked.) There were a few stealth camp options between Deep Gap and Mitchell. Second day was a slightly grueling 14 miles (9 hours) back to the car, but mostly very beautiful. The trail from Deep Gap to Mitchell and then to Maple Camp is hard, technical, but satisfying and interesting with gorgeous views. After that, on the downhill via Buncombe horse trail, things got kinda crappy. It was our least favorite stretch. It’s very rocky, muddy, and steep. I suppose if we had camped a second night and done that in the morning it would’ve been more tolerable, but we were spent. One thing we didn’t realize until really looking at the map upon arrival is that there is a half mile road walk required in between trail heads. Just a heads up for when you’re deciding where to park. Probably won’t do the loop again, but I’m glad we did it and I’d still recommend it if you’re looking for an adventure. Happy hiking! Remember to leave no trace and pack out your toilet paper!

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Kristin Glaeser
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Hiking

The views are worth all the pain! I will start by saying our experience is much different than the other reviews because we completed the 18.1 mile loop in one day. It is possible, but very grueling. For reference, we did this hike on May 3 and it took us 10.5 hours. We started at the Colbert’s trail head and headed on up to the crest. The first time you get some views is about 2 miles into the hike. Once at the crest, you will have views on either side so it is well worth it!! The trail is well maintained but it’s TOUGH. We were stopping every mile for water breaks. Make sure you have enough water because the only water you will come across the entire 18 Miles are small streams. The water fountains at Mitchell were not operational, so don’t count on them. Be very aware of black bears. I would recommend bear spray at a minimum because we did have an encounter with a momma and her cub. She was NOT pleased to see us and charged - just make loud noises the whole time and they should try to avoid you. It took us 6 hours to hike the 8 miles to the parking lot on Mt Mitchell, and I would do that hike again and again. Going down is not as fun. You use the buncombe horse trail which is flat with not a lot of views. Then the switch backs start and your knees and feet will hate you. (This is also when we ran into the bear so I was ready to get back to our car!) Overall, this was an awesome hike and very rewarding. I’d recommend it for individuals in good shape with hiking experience. Not for those looking for a leisurely stroll!!! :) My husband and I both agreed we would absolutely camp next time. On dogs, we brought our lab and she had a blast, but she is very active and we brought LOTS of water for her, so think hard on whether your pup could complete a 10.5 hour walk.

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David Randall
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Backpacking

This was a great trip. We did it backwards as well and went up Colbert Creek the first day, camped at Deep Gap, went to the Mt. Mitchell Summit and then to Maple Camp the second day and down Buncombe Horse Trail the third day. The first day up Colbert Creek took about 4 hours to get to Deep Gap. Only encountered one other person on the trail who was coming down. Water is scarce until you get near the top. IF YOU ARE CAMPING ON THE CREST, FILL UP EVERY BIT OF WATER YOU CAN AT THE CREEK 0.5-.75 miles from the top. There is a decently flowing stream but once you reach the crest, there is no water all the way to Mt. Mitchell summit that we saw, and they don't have the water turned on at the summit until May. We camped in a little open area that overlooks both sides of the mountain. It was awesome to see the sunset and sunrise without moving, but you pay for it with insane amounts of wind. We thought our two person dome tent was going to collapse, but thankfully it held strong. The next morning we headed towards Mt. Mitchell summit. The crest trail has some really cool forest areas as well as a couple places where you can see for miles on both sides. It is still a half day of climbing up hill most of the way so it can get a bit tiring after a while, but the views are worth it. After getting to Mt. Mitchell we deviated a bit from this exact hike and went down the Old Mt. Mitchell Trail then intersected with the Camp Alice trail. The park ranger told us there was a definite water source at the end of the Camp Alice connector. There was a decent flowing stream there and we filled up for the rest of the day. Going towards Maple Camp was a much easier hike. Was a bit soggy in places but overall a welcome change of mostly flat and grassy. We camped the second night at Maple Camp. The views are AMAZING. Once again it was crazy windy but worth it. The third day was an easy hike down the rest of the Buncombe Horse Trail and back to the Colbert creek trail head where we started. This hike was a great trip with amazing views after the first day. In order to camp at the best places, make sure to have a tent that can handle extreme wind gusts!

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Liz DiNatale
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Backpacking

Just did this hike in reverse over 3 days. Camping at Big Gap and Maple Camp Bald. I suggest going up Colbert Ridge first instead of Buncombe Horse Trail, it makes the last day easier. This hike is a challenge to put it lightly but it's not unattainable. There's plenty of places to get water, none of them are at places you can camp, but are within a half a mile hike. This time of year, there were springs everywhere but in dryer times, I doubt there would be. It took us about 3.5-4 hours to do the 4 mile hike up Colbert Ridge. It was pretty windy when we got up there but there is at least 1 camp site that is protected by a large rock outcropping. I wouldn't call any of the campsites up there "flat". Be prepared for the weather to turn cold. The hike over the crest was beautiful with all the views and the changing forests. The rope climbs up Big Tom were difficult but my 12 yr old dog was able to navigate the climb with a little assistance on the hard parts from me. The ropes definitely came in handy. The hike down from Mt. Mitchell was steep and taxing. The meadow campsite at the crossroads of the MST and Buncombe Horse Trail is an awesome spot and we would have stopped there to camp except we knew that Maple Camp was better. The hike to Maple Camp is relatively flat but it feels like it goes on forever (mostly because we had already hiked the entire crest). You'll pass another great camp site on your right before you reach the Big Tom connector. It's a good one as well but Maple was still better. The Big Tom connector is the last place for good water, it's another half a mile to the Maple Camp Bald. It was about 8.5-9 miles from Big Gap to Maple Camp Bald and it took us about 6 hours including stops for lunch and at the Mt. Mitchell tower. The bald gets gusty at night so make sure you orient your tent into the wind and tie it down very well. The view is worth the wind, I guarantee you. Make sure to take the time to watch the sunset and see the stars at night. We went when there was a full moon. The view of the moon over the town was absolutely perfect. The hike down the mountain on the Buncombe Horse Trail is easy and beautiful. It took us 3.5-4 hrs to do the 5 miles.

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Brian Doege
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Running
First to Review

gorgeous and really hard loop!

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Mason McCroskey
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Backpacking
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Zach Johnson
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Hiking
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Lauren Bryant
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Lorenzo Morales
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Hiking
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Zack Str
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Hiking
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