As southern Appalachian mountains go, Buckeye Knob is pretty typical. It's not terribly high (less than 3300 feet) and not terribly steep. However, like most southern peaks it's clothed in an amazing array of forest cover and home to a dizzying number of wildflowers.
Lying at the foot of the Black Mountains, the highest range in the eastern USA, it's easy to overlook Buckeye Knob and its sister peaks. Some nearby mountains of note are Laurel Knob (with Snooks Nose) and Mackey Mountain. While not big players in elevation, these summits do manage to loom abruptly over the town of Marion, and appear quite impressive from that village.
The acreage that includes Buckeye Knob was among the first to be included in this nation's initial National Forests. In fact, Buckeye Knob was within the first 7,000 acres of National Forest to be dedicated in the USA. There is a fair amount of roadless area around the peak, and some major groves of old growth. Unfortunately, all of the old growth hemlock groves are either in steep decline or are already dead due to hemlock wooly adelgid. In the coming years it's going to take some time for the huge gaps to fill in once these massive old hemlocks begin to topple.
The Mackey Mountain Roadless Area has been on a wilderness study proposal for some time. It would be nice to see this patch of woodland protected with a wilderness designation. Only time will tell if this will happen.
From I-40 take NC 70 at Old Fort to Forest Service Road 1227 to the Curtis Creek Campground (turns into Forest Service Road 482). Drive past the trailer campground to the tent camping area. Park in the lot at the information kiosk. Walk back across the road through the campground to a well marked trail head. Follow that east up Hickory Branch for about two miles to a trail intersection. Take the left fork (north) to Buckeye Knob (about 1.5 miles).
National Forest lands. No fees in the backcountry. Camping is free. The area is also not wilderness, so there are no wilderness rules. It is, however, a roadless area and will hopefully become wilderness in the future. Lots of bear in the area, so take normal precautions.
Mackey Mountain Roadless Area.
There is semi-developed camping at the Curtis Creek Campground, administered by the Pisgah National Forest.
I'd never been hiking in warm weather in this area until recently. While on the hike to the summit of Buckeye Knob I got infested with ticks. I pulled eight ticks off of me during and just after the hike. I've been hiking the southern Appalachians for more than thirty years and I only got a tick on me on one hike before this. Not sure if this area is just bad for ticks, or if the warm winters we've been suffering through have finally allowed the tick population to explode. For what it's worth, take all precautions to keep yourself free of ticks and the diseases they carry.