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.