Richard Balsam overlook in Western North Carolina - the highest elevation on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Asheville is the gateway to exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. One of America’s top rated drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway, is within easy reach of the city limits. There are numerous sights of interest within daytrip distance. The drive to the highest point on the Parkway is particularly scenic as there are gorgeous tall pines and a number of scenic overlooks. This portion of the drive is never overly crowded, and thus, makes for a peaceful day out in the wilderness. An hour away lies Richard Balsam, the highest point on the Parkway at an elevation of 6410 feet. Not only is it the highest peak in the Great Balsam mountains, but it is also the 10th highest east of the Mississippi.

The highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Richard Balsam overlook in Western North Carolina - the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway

At Milepost 431, you will see a sign proclaiming Richard Balsam as the highest elevation on the Parkway. At this point, you are located at 6053 feet. The air is cooler and there are beautiful pines everywhere. This is a great photo opp to commemorate your drive on the Parkway. From here, you can continuing driving on enjoying the magnificent mountain scenery, or opt to take a beautiful hike amongst pine trees.

Richard Balsam summit hike

Tall pines lining the Richard Balsam trail in Western North Carolina

Just down the road at the Haywood Jackson overlook, there is a gorgeous 1.5 mile loop hike to the summit of Richard Balsam. The summit is located at 6410 feet. Because of the altitude of this hike, it is a perfect cool option on a hot summer day. Expect temps to be about 15 degrees cooler, which can be a real treat depending on where you are coming from. As North Carolina summers are hot and humid, this hike is totally refreshing in comparison. Note: the drive is often closed during the winter months, so you will want to get out here in the spring or summer.

Beautiful scenery along the Richard Balsam trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Pretty greenery along the Richard Balsam hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway

This trail is by far one of the best on the entire Parkway because of its’ isolated nature and abundance of gorgeous fresh smelling Fraser fir trees and beautiful green moss. You will be reminded of a Christmas tree farm with the scent of pines in the air. On a hot summer day, this is not a bad thing! The trail is moderately strenuous as you make a 380 foot climb to the summit. However, the gradual nature of the climb, combined with the short distance, keeps it from feeling too challenging. Not many views of the mountains, although there are a few decent views near the end. When you arrive at the summit, there is a nice sign to commemorate your journey.

Tall pines lining the Richard Balsam trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Hiking through tall pine forests on the Richard Balsam trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Scenic mountain view along the Richard Balsam trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Scenic mountain view on the Richard Balsam trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Richard Balsam summit hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

A hiking stick will come in handy during the first portion of the hike (mostly uphill). Regular hikers should find the hike reasonably easy, although the high altitude could make the trek feel a bit harder than usual. Be aware that there are lots of roots and downed trees along the hike, and thus, hiking shoes are a must. The trail is maintained and easily to follow with numbered markers along the route. There are a number of benches if you need to rest along the way.

Although there is no view at the summit, the smell of fresh pines in the air, the cooler temps, and most importantly, the lack of crowds make the Richard Balsam trail the perfect choice for nature lovers seeking a cool escape. You’ll get in a great heart pumping workout, see lots of birds (it’s a great birdwatching destination), and enjoy a lovely trek through natural surroundings.

Tall pines lining the Richard Balsam trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Location & Parking

The Richard Basalm overlook is located at Milepost 431.4. The hiking trail is located at the Haywood Jackson overlook at Milepost 431. By the way, the views are fabulous at this overlook!

Beautiful mountain scenery at the Haywood Jackson overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

Where to eat

Stop for breakfast in Asheville before heading out. There are a number of great local establishments.

Biscuit Head – Serves homemade cathead biscuits with jam or gravy flights. Good local coffee. Fun artsy vibe.

All Day Darling – Serves delicious pastries plus a full breakfast menu. Try a bagel sandwich or a Shashuka. Features a shady outdoor patio. Serves great coffee from premier Carolina based company Counter Culture.

Biscuits and fried Chicken gravy at Biscuit Head
Biscuits and Fried Chicken gravy at BIscuit Head
Ameriano and Shashuka at All Day Darling

Also, there is a scenic picnic area at the Haywood Jackson overlook. Consider packing a lunch and enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery.

Scenic picnic area at the Haywood Jackson overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina