Hiking Hotspot: Black Balsam Knob
Black Balsam Knob, at 6214 feet, is the second highest peak in the Balsam Mountain range, and the 23rd highest peak in North Carolina. First on the list is Richard Balsam at 6410 feet, which also comes in as the 10th highest summit east of the Mississippi. At Milepost 431 along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, you can enjoy a moderate 1.5 mile hike through the pines to the highest summit on the Parkway. Often overlooked by tourists, this trail is one of the quietest, as well as the coolest due to the high elevation.
Black Balsam Knob
Tourists come from all over to hike the spectacular grassy balds of Southern Appalachia. These unique barren treeless open meadows have an unknown origin. The views from Black Balsam Knob are particularly enchanting. Because Black Balsam Knob is located so high up, the views are stunning in every direction. As one of the most beautiful hikes in the state, it’s no surprise that the trail to Black Balsam Knob is jam packed with tourists each weekend. It is often very hard to find parking, so you will want to grab breakfast to go and arrive as early as possible to avoid a lengthy wait.
The temps are a bit cooler at 6000+ feet, so even if it’s sunny outside, the cool air makes a hike here refreshing even on the hottest of summer days. Everything about this hike is near perfect. The air is fresh and clean, the wide open vistas of the Blue Ridge region are extraordinary, and there are endless pictures to take in every direction. All in all, Black Balsam is one of the best bang-for-your-buck hikes in Western North Carolina.
The Art Loeb trail to Black Balsam
The hike begins via the Art Loeb Trail, a lengthy 30 mile trail which is popular with avid hikers. This portion of the trail takes you on a short, scenic ~1 mile journey to the summit of Black Balsam. You will park at Milepost 420 along the Parkway. The first portion of the trail (about a half mile or so) travels up through a beautiful balsam fir pine forest. While not extremely difficult, it is uphill for almost the entirety. You will then emerge out of the forest into a grassy field. First, you will come across a gorgeous overlook. This is not Black Balsam, yet still worthy of a stop for the incredible views.
Next, you will continue veering towards the left before making your way up Black Balsam Knob. From a distance, the trek up seems really steep. In reality, it’s a more gradual climb, although quite rocky and slippery following heavy rains. Take your time and watch your step! When you finally reach the summit, take a break, enjoy the view, fuel up with a few snacks, and take lots of photos. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Smokies. The views are simply incredible. It’s well worth the sore legs the following day for a “Sound of Music” type moment where you really feel on top of the world in a truly amazing place.
A few scenic viewpoints from the trail and overlook
At this point, you can choose to go back the way you came and make this a relatively easy 2 mile RT hike. Or, you can continue on to complete the entire 5 mile loop trail. The full loop is more suited for regular hikers as the trail is fairly steep and will take several hours to complete. Along the way, you will come across another fabulous overlook – Tennent Mountain – which offers equally stunning views. For anyone up for a longer adventure, this is a really nice hike jam packed with breathtaking views.
Know before you go
This hike is extremely crowded, especially during the summer months. There is a small parking lot which fills up early. Street parking is also available, however, it also fills up early. Consider hiking this one on a weekday or during the off season (spring, early winter).
The temps can vary drastically from surrounding areas like Asheville. Plan on layering clothes. Also, the sunlight can be pretty intense at high altitude. Sunglasses, a hat, and sunblock all come in handy.
A hiking stick and quality hiking shoes are a must. Many portions of the hike travel uphill and are quite rocky and steep.
Dogs are allowed on the trail.
Restrooms are available at the parking lot. No water is available, so be sure to bring plenty of bottles, or wear a camelbak.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is often closed during the winter. Check the NPS website for details.
Nearby hikes which are just as beautiful include Graveyard Fields and the Sam Knob trail.
Plan extra time for the drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are many gorgeous overlooks to enjoy along the way!
The trailhead is located about an hour from Asheville. Take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Milepost 420.
Where to eat
It’s best to grab a quick breakfast to go so you can get to this trailhead before all the parking spaces fill up. Plus, it’s nice to enjoy the mesmerizing mountain views minus tons of tourist traffic. However, you will want to fill up with a great lunch when you get back. Lots of great picks in Asheville. Here are a few great affordable options:
Apollo Flame Bistro – Local Greek favorite with a beautiful outdoor patio. Delicious pitas and Greek salad!
Chai Pani – Excellent Indian restaurant serving delicious lunch thalis (veg and non veg available).
White Duck – Tourist favorite known for their delicious a la carte tacos and homemade chips and salsa
Packs Tavern – Popular pub downtown serving appetizers and comfort fare. Great pizza and elote appetizer.