Mount Jefferson State Natural Area
Nestled along the small Ashe County town of West Jefferson, NC is the access road for the entrance to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. It looks like many other park entrances as you snake your way up the mountain, but this one is rather unique.
You will be glad that you decided to visit once you step out of the car and take in the panoramic view from the first overlook. A detailed sign near the edge of the parking lot helps to determine which mountain you are seeing and there are many. On a clear day you can see Mulatto Mountain (elev. 4319'), Grandfather Mountain (elev. 5964'), Laurel Mountain (elev. 4543'), Bald Mountain (elev. 4942'), Bluff Ridge (elev. 5100'), and the Peak which is the highest point in Ashe County at an elevation of 5180 feet.
Dr. Elisha Mitchell was conducting a National Geological Survey in 1827 when he first climbed Mount Jefferson. He noted in his diary that he had "never seen anything more beautiful than the view from the big rocks near the top of the mountain". Unfortunately, few others were able to see the view at that time. There was no road to access the mountain and it remained privately owned. The mountain continued to be remote and inaccessible until 1939 when 26 acres were donated for a park. Area residents worked to secure donations and acquire more land. Mount Jefferson State Park was established in 1956 and was later designated a National Natural Landmark in 1975 for the unique variety of plant life.
Continue driving up to the second overlook where you will need to walk out on the ledge in order to take in the view.
Last, but certainly not least, you will reach the parking area near the summit. You can spend a few hours taking in Mount Jefferson from here. Relax and enjoy a picnic on one of nineteen tables and eight grills. Larger groups up to 75 people can be accommodated at a six table picnic shelter, complete with large grill, fireplace, and drinking fountain. Reservations are required for the shelter, but it can be used free of charge on a first come basis when not reserved. This shelter is handicapped accessible; however, restrooms facilities on the summit are not. Handicapped accessible restrooms are available at the park office near the entrance year round. Now that you are relaxed and nourished, it is time to explore the Mount Jefferson Summit Trail. The parking area is the trailhead for an easy .3 mile hike to the highest point on Mount Jefferson. Also explore the Lost Province Trail, a .7 mile hike through a virgin oak and chestnut forest, or the Rhododendron Trail, a strenuous 1.1 mile hike that begins at the end of the Summit Trail. Please keep in mind that pets are allowed but must be on a leash of no more than six feet.
The Mount Jefferson State Natural Area has much to offer the traveler in western North Carolina. Pause, look around, breathe in the fresh mountain air, and experience a real treasure of Ashe County, NC.