From the US 421/NC 194 junction in Boone, take NC 194 north for 4.3-miles and turn left on Meat Camp Road*. Drive another 5.8 miles through the scenic valley and in the gap between Elk Knob and Snake Mountain, turn right into the park. The office, with exhibits, information, and restrooms, is on the left. The second left leads to the picnic area. Bear right for the trail parking area with a temporary privy.
*Meat Camp, so-named because Daniel Boone had a hunting camp in the area. Indeed, Daniel was a frequent Boone Area visitor and resident.
Elk Knob is one of North Carolina's two newest state parks, both located in the High Country (the other is Grandfather Mountain).
Talk about a "best-kept secret." The lofty mountains north of Boone - the Northern Peaks to many - rise to more than 5,500 feet, the magic number that means "major mountain" in the East. Elk Knob equals the status of slightly more southerly Boone Area peaks like Beech Mountain, the East's highest town and ski resort, and Hump Mountain, one of the summits that so distinguish the Roan Highlands part of the Appalachian Trail.
There's more. From Rich Mountain, overlooking Boone, north to Mount Jefferson and Phoenix Mountain - these are the "Amphibolite Mountains." You'd need to be a geologist to appreciate their uniqueness-summits of sedimentary rock turned metamorphic by volcanic action. Quartz crystals are seen in many places in the park - including a step of solid quartz on the trail to the top.
The park's "all-new" facilities include a visitor center/administrative office, eleven site picnic area with tables and grills, backcountry campsites, and a 1.8-mile trail to 5,520-foot Elk Knob built with the help of hundreds of volunteers, many of them outdoor enthusiasts who call the High Country home. Read the inspiring story of how volunteers built the trail that was finished in late summer 2011. The park still invites volunteers to assist with other projects-call the park office to get you or your group involved (828-297-7261). And there are plenty of other opportunities to help build other Boone Area trails.
Elk Knob was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 2003 and soon after was transferred to the state of North Carolina. Conservationists continue their efforts to expand the amount of acreage protected from development in the "Northern Peaks" north of Boone.
In winter, the road past the park entrance is plowed and rangers make every effort to keep the park open as a focus for winter sports such as cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The Elk Knob area is particularly snowy and in future, it's likely the park may provide some of the best Nordic skiing in the South. The Elk Knob Summit Trail is great for snowshoeing. (In winter, check out the Boone Area Cross Country Ski Report for details.)
Head up this wonderfully graded trail-meaning it climbs gradually at a relaxing rise that makes this a moderately-strenuous hike despite 1,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead to the mountaintop. The dramatically rocky landscape permitted the path to be lined with rocks, then leveled with an easy-to-walk gravel foot tread. In the trail's numerous switchbacks, where the path turns back to climb in another direction, there are often stone or wood benches for resting. (Signs ask hikers not to cut switchbacks and to stay on the trail.)
There are impressive rock steps and stone paved portions of the path as it switchbacks up the south slope, then slides around the ridge to zig-zag up the north face (where snow might be found even in April). The trail crosses to the south slope again-passing a steep road to the top for the last time. The trail gets a little steeper as it climbs stone steps at the top.
The stunted, wildly wind-gnarled summit covering of beech and other northern hardwood trees permit views in many directions. The last stretch of the hike to the top joins the old road where a left reaches a southern viewpoint and a right leads to the summit and views to the north.
This is a "best-kept secret" viewpoint, one of the best in the Boone Area. Elk Knob is equidistant between the highest peaks in NC and the East (Mount Mitchell, 6,684 feet, to the south) and the loftiest mountain in Virginia (Mount Rogers, 5,729 feet, off to the north). All around lay other distinctive landmarks, including Grandfather Mountain, massive to the south (5,946 feet). All three High Country ski areas are visible. Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain, and Sugar Mountain can still be showing partially snow-covered slopes late into the spring. The pastoral beauty of Boone Area agriculture is evident in every direction. No wonder. The soil resulting from the erosion of these amphibolite peaks is particularly rich.
(For more detail on other Boone area trails, pick up a trail guide by local outdoor expert Randy Johnson.)
Zoom in close on the map below (use the plus/minus signs and directional arrows at upper left), or repeatedly double click near, but not on, the map symbols. You can literally dive down to see the parking lots and landmarks for Elk Knob's hike and facilities. Click any map symbol and information balloons pop up. In the trailhead parking map balloon, click "Directions," add your address or location, and step-by-step directions will guide you to the park from wherever you are!