Start: 1,425 feet
Finish: 6,586 feet
Length: 24.1 miles
Total Elevation: 5,161 feet
Rating: Cat. 1
Mount Mitchell has one of the greatest elevation gains of any climb in the United States, and the climbing styles are very diverse. The first section (Route 80) starts out shallow but gradually gets steeper as you ride. Its top portion contains a series of 180-degree switchbacks as it nears the Blue Ridge Parkway. After several tunnels and a descent, the climb resumes on Mount Mitchell State Park Road, which is a bit steeper than earlier climbing. The dead-end road is the highest legal paved road in the eastern US.
Summerson says: “The tunnels can be irritating because they’re quite dark. This one’s close to my home, though I tend to prefer shorter, steeper, knee-breaking types of climbs. But this one sure is scenic. And the humidity makes it even harder.”
Logistics: From the small town of Marion, at the junction of Routes 221 and 70, head south on Route 70. In around two miles turn right on Route 80. After 2.8 miles you come to the Lake Tohoma dam, which you circle before crossing a small bridge over the creek that feeds the lake. This is the start. As a feeder town for the Blue Ridge Parkway, Marion has plenty of hotels, but the Inn at Glen Alpine (from $105 a night) in nearby Morganton is a big, rambling B&B that’s worth the drive.