Balsam Cone is one of the top ten highest mountains in the eastern USA. Standing along the Black Mountain crest, it is one of the most imposing summits in a long line of other dominant peaks. It stands as nearly equal in height to its more famous sister peak, Mount Mitchell, which lies just a few miles distant. I'm not sure of its exact height, for it's listed as 6,596 feet by the park service, 6,600 feet according to topozone, and 6,611 feet at the America's rooftop website. So I went with the park service, as I generally do.
In recent years, its slopes were all but denuded of its namesake balsam trees by the ravages of acid rain and the depredations of the introduced wooly aphid. However, the forest seems to be recovering and it is once again an enormous balsam nursery.
Access to Mount Mitchell State Park is from the Blue Ridge Parkway. As of this writing (11-11-2004), the Blue Ridge Parkway to the north of Mitchell is closed due to severe damage from heavy rains. From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile marker 355 and turn left onto NC 128 which leads up to Mount Mitchell State Park.
The trailhead to Balsam Cone (and most of the other high Black Mountain peaks) is via Deep Gap Trail (aka Black Mountain Crest Trail, aka Forest Service Trail #179.
Trail tackles the slopes head-on.
However, no camping is allowed along the Deep Gap Trail inside the Mount Mitchell State Park. You have to drop out of the park down to Deep Gap to camp. Overnight campers along the trail need only register their vehicles if leaving them inside Mount Mitchell State Park.
The park is often closed during winter due to inclement weather.
Black Mountain Crest Trail.
When To Climb
All year. The winter weather is often severe on the highest peaks of the South, so come prepared for extreme snow and icing conditions if hiking in the colder months. The trails are extremely rugged and this area is very isolated. Don't underestimate the Black Mountains.
Yes. There is a developed campground inside Mount Mitchell State Park on Commissary Ridge. Camping is also allowed along the Black Mountain Crest Trail outside the park boundaries, most notably in Deep Gap. The Forest Service requests that no one camp on the ridges and peaks.
The online weather station for Mount Mitchell can be seen here
A profile of the trail from Mitchell to Winter Star can be found here