This is a short weekend trip we did last fall in a group of 3 people. Two of us were Claytor JH users and one tent dweller who is now a hanger.
This trip was done with a shuttle rather than a loop and went from Mt. Mitchell to the Carolina Hemlocks campground. We got a late start Friday and with it getting dark much earlier than in summer we were not able to complete our shuttle before they shut the gates at Mt. Mitchell around 7. So the first night we camped at the Carolina Hemlocks Campground. It cost us $16 I believe and we had a nice spot with flush toilets, showers, grills, and picnic tables available to us, not exactly roughing it. We picked an open spot with plenty of places to hang. The camp was great and would be an excellent spot to car camp with a family. Some of the spots were right on a little river and had a footbridge across it.
It got quite cold that night and the camp attendants informed us in the morning that it got into the low 30's that morning, it was late october. I learned my lesson of having no pad and only a sleeping bag, needless to say I was cold. We were up early on made the 30 minute drive up to Mt. Mitchell. We took in the sites and museum and then headed off. We followed the Black Mountain Crest Trail into the only approved campsite that we could reach that day at Deep Gap. It was not a long hike but it can be pretty steep at points (you cross several 6,000 ft peaks). We took our time and took in all the views which were absolutely unbelievable. Most of the leaves at the top of the mountain were gone but in the valleys were tons of color. The daytime weather was perfect in the upper 50's with a breeze and all sunshine.
The rangers told us to be on the lookout for bears as they were very active that time of year and as we came into deep gap we stirred one up and while we never saw him we certainly felt the ground shake as he ran away. We didn't realize how close we were to the camp site but it was literally just around the corner. The trial follows the ridge line of the black mountains and this really was the first spot that could support a campsite although you could hang in many places of the trail if you needed to. There was a nice clearing where about 8 campers had already set up but there was still plenty of room with several fire pits. Our tent dweller set up there just about 15 yards from where the bear was and we ventured further down the trail. Just past the clearing is a wealth of spots to hang from, but all over rocky ground that would not support tents. Deep gap was a great place to camp for both tents and hammocks and is plenty big, by the end of the night a outward bound group of about 20 joined us and there was still plenty of room. The hammocks proved their value however as we were well away from where everyone was cooking and where we saw the bear but most of all we did not have to sit up until midnight and listen to the "I appreciate you" circle of the outward bound group. Deep gap also offered a wonderful view of the sunrise in the morning, overall great campsite.
The next morning we headed from Deep gap back towards the Carolina Hemlocks campground. We came to a fork in the trail at a small campsite. We ate a snack and debated which one to take as it was not showing on the map and then set off down the trail to the left that looked more established. Note to all future hikers, take the right fork if you want to go to the carolina hemlocks. This trail spit us out on a dirt road which we followed for miles past many spent shotgun shells and empty beer cans until we passed a car of a family and confirmed where we were. We then continued to follow the dirt road back to the road that the campground was on and followed it another mile back to the campground. So for any future hikers be sure to bear right.
Overall a great trip that I would highly recommend. It is steep at points on the trail but there are ropes to assist you. The views are great and the air smells of pine trees, it is a wonderful place. I would like to go back and do the entire Black Mountain Crest Trail but another day I guess.