Apart of a cluster of 5000 footers in northern Watauga and western Ashe County, Elk Knob is a round, prominent peak of 5,530 feet. The mountain was owned by The Nature Conservancy, but the land has recently been handed over to the state, now labeled Elk Knob State Park. Elk Knob is unique geologically and ecologically, as it belongs to a group of amphibolite rock-ladened mountains in the region. This influences the soil in a way that allows for rare plants to grow like trailing wolfsbane, meehania, Roan rattlesnakeroot, large purple-fringed orchid, and Gray's lily to name a few (Nature Conservancy). There is also little underbrush in the forest allowing for easy exploring. Though stunted, trees cover the summit, but there are a few open areas that allow expansive views to the south towards Grandfather and to the north into Ashe County. The mountains of Grayson Highlands can be seen easily on a clear day.
Elk Knob and Long Hope Valley Panorama
Being in the more remoter part of the Boone region, few people visit the mountain aside from the local outdoor folks. An old jeep trail or fire road ascends the mountain to the summit making it easy to find your way. The road is rocky and gets steep in areas, but is not technical. There are side trails if you want to look for them. Currently, the state is blazing a new summit trail, but the completion date is unknown. There is little evidence of recent logging and the northern coves of the mountain have probably never felt the axe or chainsaw.
Elk Knob is in the northern corner of North Carolina about 25 minutes north of Boone, about 1 hour south of I-81, 2.25 hours northeast of Asheville, 3.25 hours from Knoxville and 2 hours west of Winston-Salem
Google Maps Location and Directions
If you live near Boone, you can make it an easy, short excursion taking less than a half day. But why rush it?
Take 194 north out of Boone, go 4.3 miles. Turn left onto Meat Camp Road, go 5.6 miles ascending to Pottertown Gap. A steep climb and sharp curve will let you know you're climbing to the gap. At the top of gap, take your first right onto a dirt/gravel road. You will see a sign confirming you are entering state land. Continue and stay straight until you reach a gate. Park and hike up from there.
The hike to the summit takes about 40 minutes and is considered strenuous. If you have good knees, you can get down in about 25 minutes. The hike is about 950 feet vertical.
The hike starts off steep on an old road (vehicle ruts are evident). Stay on the road the whole way. After the first steep climb, the trail flattens out. There is a side trail to the left that goes through the woods and meets back up with the main trail. This is a good shortcut in the spring to view wildflowers. The trail switchbacks a few times, then you start the steep climb to the summit.
There is another path that leads from the summit to the north. I believe it leaves the park boundary and into private land.
This is the only way I've hiked Elk Knob. Currently, the state is constructing a new trail to the summit that will be longer, but less steep. Completion date is unknown.
Since Elk Knob is now apart of the state park system, adhere to those rules.
There are seperate signs at the trailhead that say no camping or fires. This is probably temporary since there aren't any designated campsites or fire pits.
When To Climb
Any time of the year.
Each season offers something special. Spring wildflowers abound and autumn vistas are breath-taking. For winter, the trail wind-loads snow well on the steeper sections, say, if you are into winter sports.
Camping is not allowed on Elk Knob. I've stayed overnight on the summit before there was a strong park ranger presence. There are a few old fire rings on the summit showing evidence of other overnighters.
If you do wish to camp on Elk Knob, there is a thick, grassy patch on the summit with just a few small rocks embedded underneath. Just throw a sleeping bag down and enjoy the stars on a clear night. You might be able to squeeze a small tent somewhere on top. The grassy patch is surrounded by thick, low trees, so you are blocked from the elements, somewhat.
As you approach the summit, on the right there is a small clearing with thick grass. This spot is more exposed, but you could probably put a tent up there.
Park rangers do enforce the no camping policy. Don't get caught!
for NC highcountry weather. He will give some details in regards to the higher elevations in his daily weather summary. Do not trust national or state level forcasts. Ray Russel knows and understands the regional microclimate.
Ray now has a weather station on Rich Mountain
. This station will have similiar conditions to Elk Knob
The Nature Conservancy and other conservation trusts have recently acquired two tracts of land (585 and 566 acres) adjacent to the current Elk Knob SNA. The 585 acre tract will be transferred over to the state, increasing the core size of Elk Knob SNA from 1,238 to 1,823 acres. The other tract will be used as a conservation easement for the time being.
In July (2005), the N.C. Parks and Recreation Authority set aside $313,000 for development of interim facilities at Elk Knob, to include an entrance road and parking area, picnic grounds, a park office and trail improvements to the summit. A citizens’ park advisory committee will be appointed soon, followed by the master planning process.
If you have any other information about this mountain that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.
External Links and Books
North Carolina Afield: A Guide to Nature Conservancy Projects in North Carolina
- Includes information on Elk Knob