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Mount Jefferson State Natural Area: West Jefferson, NC

Efficient Admin (aka Michelle) loves hiking in the mountains and good food. She works as a Project Assistant for an engineering firm.


Introduction to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area

Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is located in western North Carolina near the Virginia border in a town called West Jefferson, North Carolina. Activities at this park include picnicking and hiking. It offers spectacular views of the surrounding area and a very diverse botanical population.


In 1952, the mountain was named after Thomas Jefferson and his father, Peter, who owned land in the area and surveyed the nearby North Carolina-Virginia border in 1749. Legend holds that during the Civil War, the "caves" beneath Mount Jefferson's ledges served as hideouts for escaped slaves traveling to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

In 1941, efforts to have the local park accepted as a state park failed, and in 1952 the area became a state forest wayside park. Efforts continued to get state park status and were unsuccessful because standards adopted in 1955 required that a state park must contain a minimum of 400 acres. Undaunted by continuous obstacles, local citizens obtained a 300-acre donation and succeeded in raising funds to buy an additional 164 acres for the park. As a result of their determination, Mount Jefferson became a state park in October 1956.

Before the revolution, Mount Jefferson was known as Panther Mountain, because of a legend that tells of a panther that attacked and killed a child there. Area residents gave the mountain other names until 1952 when Mount Jefferson received its official name.

It wasn't until the 1930s that people took an interest in creating widespread access to the mountain. Mount Jefferson State Natural Area had its beginnings when the Works Progress Administration constructed a road of little more than two miles to the summit of Mount Jefferson. In 1939, local officials wanted to have the road improved, but the state could not provide funds for a private road. Thus, two prominent local citizens donated 26 acres of land for a public park and thereby attained the road improvements.

Jefferson Overlook

The above video shows a drone's view of the area at the Jefferson Overlook. As you hike up the Mountain Ridge trail, it deadends into the Jefferson Overlook. This is the point where you would have to walk on the asphalt to get to the top parking area and the other hiking trails (but it is only a 10-minute walk). At this time I know of no plans to create an actual trail from the Jefferson Overlook to the Summit area.

Hiking Trails

You can hike about seven miles at this park. Following are a few brief descriptions of each trail along with photos of each trail.

Mountain Ridge Trail

This trail starts at the bottom of the mountain across the street from the Ranger Park Office. It is two miles (one way) of elevation to the top to the Summit parking area. Along the way, you will pass three different overlooks: Sunrise Overlook, Sunset Overlook (accessible via the Spur Trail, which is an out-and-back one-mile trail), and the Jefferson Overlook. This trail offers beautiful views and much plant diversity. Even after a few days of hard rains, the trail was damp but not mucky and muddy. There is heavy tree coverage overhead for shade and protection from rain while hiking this trail.

Once you arrive at the Spur Trail intersection, you can veer to the right to continue to the top, or add another mile to your hike by taking the Spur Trail. Once you get to the Jefferson Overlook, the trail completely deadends, but there are wonderful views of area mountains to behold. At this point, you must walk on the asphalt road to get to the Summit parking area to continue hiking on the awesome trails at the top.

Summit Trail

This trail starts at the picnic tables once you get past the large parking lot. There is a large covered pavilion that can be rented for picnics, as well as flush toilet bathrooms at the top. The Summit Trail does have some uphill climbing but it is a short distance. I found the best way to hike these trails at the top is to go counter-clockwise, starting at the bathrooms. Once you pass the bathrooms, veer to the right on the Summit Trail which leads to the Lost Province Trail Loop. If you stay straight and do not veer right, this trail climbs 0.3 mile to the highest point at Mount Jefferson.

Lost Province Trail

This trail is a 0.75-mile loop and is considered moderate due to some elevation climbs. It travels through virgin oak/chestnut forest, and views of feathery false lily of the valley and other understory species.

Rhododendron Trail

This trail is 1.1 miles and follows the ridge facing the southeast and also has the Luther Rock view. There is also the Mount Jefferson view where the tower is located. The south side of this trail is less exposed to the frigid winds of winter, and the trees are larger than those on the ridge. This trail returns to the picnic area parking lot through a forest of large northern red oaks.

Evergreens and Heaths

When we think of evergreens we think of pines, firs, and hemlocks. But there are several other plants living on Mount Jefferson that keep their leaves all year long. They are the Catawba Rhododendrons found at elevations above 3,000 feet. This plant has very dark green leaves and is a member of the Heath family and it is also poisonous. Rhododendrons usually flower in May or June. They use special cells in their leaves that allow the leaf to curl up in cold weather or in very hot sunny weather. This special ability known as tropism helps the plant survive as conditions change with the seasons.

Mountain Laurel is another member of the Heath family which produces beautiful flowers in summer. It is also poisonous, but bees are apparently immune to its toxic effects.

Park Hours and Directions

Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is located at 1481 Mount Jefferson State Park Road, West Jefferson, NC 28694.

Phone: 336-246-9653


Latitude: 36.393564

Longitude: -81.468012

Hours of Park

8 a.m. to sunset
Closed Christmas Day

Park Office

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays
Closed state holidays

Rules and Regulations

  • The removal of any plant, animal, rock or artifact is prohibited.
  • All state parks are wildlife preserves. Hunting and trapping are not permitted. Do not feed or frighten the animals.
  • Place trash in its proper place. State law requires aluminum cans and plastic bottles to be placed in recycling containers.
  • Firearms and other weapons are prohibited except that those with a proper permit may possess a concealed handgun in permitted areas and under the requirements of N.C. G.S. 14-415.11. All firearms and weapons are prohibited in visitor centers and park offices.
  • Fireworks are prohibited.
  • The possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited.
  • Pets must be on an attended leash no longer than six feet.
  • Camping is not permitted.
  • Fires are permitted only in designated areas.
  • When hiking, stay on designated trails and away from cliff faces. Do not cross barriers.
  • The Mount Jefferson State Park Road is very steep with many sharp curves. Please adhere to the park speed limit of 25 mph.
  • Be alert to approaching storms, and leave the mountain top immediately.
  • Venomous snakes and poison ivy may be encountered along park trails. Be alert.
  • Remember daylight hours are shorter in the fall and winter. Allow plenty of time for a hike to avoid being caught by darkness.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Michelle Dee


Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on August 13, 2018:

Liz Westwood, thank you very much for reading and your positive comments!

Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on August 13, 2018:

FlourishAnyway - I agree so much! By their wonderful actions so many people have/will benefit from this awesome place. Today it is apparent there is so much pride in this mountain because it is so clean and the trails very maintained.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 13, 2018:

This is an extremely helpful and well-illustrated article.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 12, 2018:

I like that citizens were so passionate about this park’s status that they secured additional land and persisted until their goal was met.