OverviewLet's get something straight right off the bat. You're not going to stay up late at night excitedly planning a trip to Potato Knob. Although it's one of the highest peaks in the eastern United States, it is neither a prominent peak nor does it offer impressive views. Potato Knob does offer a fun little light bushwhacking/routefinding and extension onto a longer hike on the Black Mountain ridge.
County highpointers will also view this mountain as an objective. Potato Knob is the high point of Buncombe County. From one Potato Knob access point (Black Mountain Gap), another county high point is easily accessed. The Knob can also be accessed from Stepps Gap or the Mount Mitchell parking area.
Whoever named the mountains in the area either enjoyed confusing the hell out of people or had the imagination of a toadstool. There is another peak, Potato Hill, on the same ridge. This ridge also boasts Mount Gibbes and Gibbs Mountain. Anyhow, Potato Knob is identified as the most southwesterly peak on the Black Mountain Ridge, and is also named on USGS topo maps.
Getting ThereThe obvious access points are from the Blue Ridge Parkway, not too far from I-40. If coming from the east, simply take US 221 to NC 80, which runs into the Blue Ridge Parkway. Follow this north for 18 miles. You can park at the Black Mountain Gap and head straight up the ridge (I didn't go this way but have heard there is a faint trail) or enter Mount Mitchell State Park and park at Stepps Gap (for a quicker ascent) or the Mount Mitchell Parking area for a longer ridge traverse than parking at Stepps.
Note: The Blue Ridge Parkway does close due to weather from time to time in the winter. If planning a trip during winter months, be sure to check the Mount Mitchell State Park website - a good place for information regarding BRP closures due to weather.
Due to recent rockslide, the approach from the Asheville (west) on the parkway is closed. If coming from the west you'll need to head north from Asheville on US 19/23 and head east on US 19E where US19/23 separate. Head south on NC 80 to the BRP, and access the Mount Mitchell State Park from there. No word on when the road will reopen, but there is concern about structural integrity so it may take awhile.
Red TapeNo fees to enter the park. There isn't much red tape here, except that overnight hikers must register with the park.
The gate is locked upon closing of the park. Following are the operating hours for Mount Mitchell State Park:
November-February, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
March and October, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
April and September, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
May-August, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.