Elk Knob State Park

Elk Knob State Park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Watauga County, just north of Boone, North Carolina, and it is one of the newest state parks in the North Carolina park system. The Nature Conservancy in a partnership with several local land owners purchased Elk Knob and 1100 acres of surrounding land and donated it to the state. In 2003, the state designated the area a state park. The Nature Conservancy also purchased additional land in the vicinity and donated some of it to the park to bring it to its current size of 1800 acres. Developers began building in the surrounding mountains and valleys in the 1990’s, and local citizens were concerned that the area’s unique natural formations and ecology would be lost. Thus, they sought the assistance of the Nature Conservancy and the state to ensure that Elk Knob would be preserved in its natural state for future generations.

Elk Knob

The most prominent feature of Elk Knob State Park is, of course, Elk Knob, a 5,520 foot mountain. Rittle Knob is also located in the park. Elk Knob is an unusual and peculiar mountain because it is made of amphibolite, a substance also found in a few of the surrounding peaks. Amphibolite contains minerals necessary for the growth of a number of rare and unusual plants. The knob is also where the North Fork New River begins. This stream is part of one of the world’s most ancient river systems. Bears, deer, turkeys, bobcats, ravens, and other wildlife call the park home. Prominent trees include birch, buckeye, maple, and beech. Trees on the summit of Elk Knob are rather small and stunted because of the cool temperatures on the mountain. The area doesn’t appear to have been logged in decades, and some of it has probably never been logged. On clear days, visitors can see Mount Rogers in Virginia, Mount Mitchell in Yancey County, the highest mountain in the eastern part of the country, and Grandfather Mountain, one of the world’s oldest mountains. Peaks in Tennessee are also visible.

Park Facilities

Since Elk Knob State Park is so new, it has few amenities for the visitor. There are some limited picnic and grilling areas, but that’s about it except for an entrance road and park office. Camping and camp fires are prohibited, although some people sometimes spent the night on the knob before the state fully staffed the park. Park rangers are now apparently vigorously enforcing the prohibitions against camp fires and camping. Because of lack of funding and a desire to maintain the park in as natural a condition as possible, Elk Knob State Park may never have facilities as extensive as visitors expect in a typical state park. Hiking is one of the few activities that visitors can enjoy. However, even that is difficult. The only way to reach the summit of Elk Knob is to hike up an old, narrow, rocky 1.3 mile timber and fire trail that ascends about 1,000 feet. The hike is very difficult and takes about 40 minutes for experienced hikers in good physical shape to complete. A wider, less strenuous trail is being constructed with volunteer labor, but since construction is intermittent, the park service cannot project a completion date.

Other Things to See and Do at the Park

Elk Knob State Park offers terrific views of fall foliage, which is always a breathtaking sight in the mountains. Festivals are scheduled in the park periodically by students and faculty of Appalachian State University in an effort to preserve some of the region’s mountain culture. Residents of some of the local communities, which have suffered large population declines in recent decades, teach visitors about traditional mountain life and agriculture.

Contact Information

Office phone: 828-297-7261
email address: elk.knob@ncmail.net
5564 Meat Camp Road
Todd, NC 28684
Website: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/elkn/main.php

Hours of Operation

November-February: 8am to 6pm
September, October, March, April, May: 8am to 8pm
June-August: 8am-9pm
Park Office: 8am to 5pm on weekdays only
The office is closed on state holidays and the Park itself is closed on Christmas Day

There are no fees for visiting the park or using its very limited facilities.