Black Balsam Knob: hiking the Art Loeb Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway
Trek this ultra-popular Blue Ridge Parkway hike to exceptional summit views from Black Balsam Knob, a bald wildflower-covered mountain on the Art Loeb Trail.
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Art Loeb Trail dips through a dense grove of balsam fir trees. Sunlight filters between the balsam branches, illuminating the trail with warm, magical light. Balsam needles litter the forest floor. And in the air, often breezy at these high altitudes, is the sweet, sweet scent of balsam.
Then, after a short trek through the balsam grove, the trail exits into an idyllic, sun-drenched, rocky landscape that’s covered in wildflowers as far as the eye can see. The hike climbs to a ridgeline and summits Black Balsam Knob, the first of a line of treeless balds that are carpeted in endless wildflowers, wild blueberries and blackberries. Views extend in every direction. At over 6,000 feet, the air is fresh and breezy, and the sunshine warm but not scorching. This is Black Balsam Knob on the Art Loeb Trail, and it’s simply one of North Carolina’s best, most beautiful, can’t-wait-to-do-it-again hikes.
The Black Balsam Knob area, off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Graveyard Fields, is well loved for its stunning hikes to incredible summit views, through grassy meadows and to an abundance of wildflowers and berries in warm summertime months. And with access to long-range trails, like the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail that treks through the nearby Shining Rock Wilderness, it’s a popular backpacking destination, too. This hike hits the highlights of the area, hiking through a balsam grove and summiting on Black Balsam Knob’s epic, see-forever, idyllic rolling mountaintop. At less than 2 miles, roundtrip, it’s short, scenic and so, so pretty. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the most popular Blue Ridge Parkway hikes south of Asheville.
(For a longer adventure, hike to the Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain summits on the Art Loeb Trail, and then loop back on the Ivestor Gap Trail. It’s a 5 mile hike with abundant summit views and even more summertime blueberries.)
Art Loeb Trail at Black Balsam Knob: the hike
The hike departs from the Art Loeb trailhead off Black Balsam Knob Rd, located roughly halfway between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Sam Knob trailhead at the end of the road (view maps and driving directions). The hike trails northbound from the road, trekking through tall grasses and diving into a grove of balsam fir. The hike steadily climbs elevation, arcing to the northeast and passing through the sweet-scented balsam forest.
The hike exits tree cover at .15 mile, veering northwest and sighting Black Balsam Knob ahead. The trail climbs through a grass and wildflower-filled landscape, scrambling over large rock outcrops. The hike passes a lone balsam tree on trail right, standing a solitary distance from the nearby grove.
The trail climbs to a large outcrop, catching the first of many stunning panoramic views. The Art Loeb Spur Trail departs trail left at .45 mile, diving through dense thickets of grassy forest and connecting to the nearby Sam Knob Trail. This hike continues northbound, climbing through the wildflower-filled landscape. Bees buzz loudly, busily darting from flower to flower, their work seemingly endless in this blossom-filled utopia.
The hike dips elevation briefly before making a final climb to the summit. The trail reaches the bald summit at .7 mile, catching some seriously amazing views of the surrounding mountainous landscape. A metal plaque dedicated to Art Loeb is affixed to a large outcrop at the bald mountain’s top. And, on the far distant horizon, the white-quartz-capped summit of Shining Rock Mountain can be seen on a clear day.
After soaking up some truly stunning views, the hike retraces its outbound steps to the trailhead, completing at 1.4 miles.
More nearby Blue Ridge Parkway hiking adventures
This stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville is prime for outdoor adventures. Catch more summit views from the nearby Sam Knob Trail which departs from a trailhead at the end of Black Balsam Knob. Explore waterfalls and expansive meadows on the Graveyard Fields Trail two miles east on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Or catch a summertime swim at the ultra-popular waterfalls and pools at Skinny Dip Falls, located just past Graveyard Fields at MP 417.
Black Balsam Knob via the Art Loeb Trail: Directions & Details
Free (but limited) parking is available along Black Balsam Knob Road, located south of Asheville at milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Before you go, check for trail updates and parkway closures on the official Blue Ridge Parkway website.)
35.320700, -82.876200 // N35 19.242 W82 52.572