ELK KNOB STATE PARK
One of the newest additions to the North Carolina State Parks System. Currently, it is in an interim development stage with a park office/contact station, a maintenance facility, picnic area, parking areas, a trail to the summit of Elk Knob, and backcountry camping areas. At this time, visitors can hike to the summit by following a newly constructed trail 1.9 miles to the summit.
Elk Knob is one in a series of amphibolite mountains in the southern Appalachian range. The area contains a high diversity of natural communities, many of them uncommon or rare. A very diverse flora is found in Elk Knob State Natural Area, due partially to the high elevation and the rich soils. The rich, or sweet soils, are derived from the weathering of amphibolite, a metamorphic rock type. Rare and endangered plants such as Gray's lily, trailing wolfsbane, large purple fringed orchid, and flame azaleas are found in the natural area.
The North Fork of the New River has its headwaters in the high elevations of the surrounding amphibolite mountain known as Elk Knob. The New River is thought to be one of the oldest rivers in the world.
The summit of Elk Knob contains an excellent example of a northern hardwood forest which includes a beech gap subtype. The northern hardwood forest, typically found above 4000 feet in elevation, consists primarily of sugar maple, yellow birch, American beech, and yellow buckeye. Trees growing on the northern slopes and on the summit of Elk Knob are gnarled and stunted by the harsh weather conditions.
The forests and rock outcrops support breeding ravens and a number of neotropical songbirds. Black bear, bobcat, wild turkey, white tailed deer, and a number of smaller mammals inhabit this rugged mountainous area.
2000s, until a group of concerned citizens, land owners, and the Nature Conservancy worked together to purchase the mountain. In 2003, it was deeded to the state of North Carolina under the management of the Division of Parks and Recreation. Elk Knob State Park helps to protect the headwaters of the North Fork of the New River, one of the oldest rivers in the world. Its many species of flora and fauna, which include several rare and endangered species, will now be protected from development.
At an elevation of 5,520 feet above sea level, Elk Knob is one of the tallest peaks in Watauga County and offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. Standing on the summit of Elk Knob, hikers can look out over the land with panoramic views and imagine a time many years ago when elk grazed the valleys below in abundant herds. Unfortunately, elk no longer roam these mountains as they disappeared from this region due to over-hunting and loss of habitat. The last native elk in North Carolina were believed to have been killed in the late 1700s.
Several historic mountain communities, from Meat Camp to Sutherland, surround Elk Knob State Park. From the 1850s until the late 20th century, people from near and far would bring their goods to the Winebarger Grist Mill in the Meat Camp community to be processed. Just a few miles away, Sutherland had its thriving business in the cattle industry. Each of these small, bustling, dynamic communities had at least one general store, post office, school, and church and they contributed a rich history to this area of Watauga County.
Every September, Elk Knob State Park hosts a Community Day event at which residents of the shrinking communities gather to share a meal, pass down their history and share photos of earlier days. They demonstrate how things were done before more modern inventions were developed and enjoy live music. This free event, which is open to the public, gives visitors a chance to learn about practices that were common throughout the history of the Elk Knob area.
Elk Knob State Park has recently opened backcountry campsites. It is an enjoyable hike down into a cove forest with beautiful streams. There are 3 individual sites that can accommodate no more than 6 people and two tents each, 2 group sites that can accommodate up to 25 people and is for organized groups, and a zone camping area that can accommodate 3 sites of no more than 6 people and two tents each. These are primitive sites with no facilities except one pit toilet to be shared by the 2 group sites. The closest sites are approximately a one mile hike and the farthest one is approximately a 2 mile hike. All supplies, including water, must be packed to the sites. To drink water from nearby creeks and streams, use a filtration device or boil the water for at least five minutes. Camp fires are not allowed. Cooking by camp stove is permitted. Reservations are required for the group sites while the other sites are on a first-come, first-served basis.