Distance: Summit hike, 3.8 miles; Beech Tree Trail loop, 1.0 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous to easy
Elk Knob is a towering, meadow-topped peak more than a mile high and conveniently close to Boone. Its altitude and state line location ensure northern tree species and scintillating fall color.
The main attraction, featuring an artfully switchback, is Summit Trail, a gradual, meandering route with stone benches set into trailside rocks. The hissing color of trailside leaves gives way to breezier, expansive summit vistas from treeline-like vegetation.
Signs identify skyline summits. To the north, Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s first and second highest peaks, raise their own meadows and crags.
A who’s who of High Country peaks soar south with Grandfather Mountain, Hanging Rock, Sugar Mountain, and Beech Mountain marching left to right (ski slopes stripe the latter two). Mountain Mitchell’s Black Mountain Range rises beyond.
No sweat if an easier walk is what you’re looking for—the park’s 1.0 mile Beech Tree Trail, a family-friendly TRACK Trail interpretive hike, leaves from the same trailhead so grab a few brochures at the sign. And don’t feel bad about missing the summit; Beech Tree alternates colorful woods and trailside boulders with spectacular sedge grass-covered glades.
Navigate: Elk Knob is just ten miles—a 20 minute drive—north of Boone. Take NC 194 from US 421 in Boone, and turn left on Meat Camp Road for the scenic, occasionally steep climb to a right turn into the park entrance across from Snake Mountain. Both hikes start at the main trailhead not far past the ranger office and gift shop. For more information, visit the park’s website or call (828) 297-7261.