Devils Courthouse: hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail to Black Balsam Knob
Hike the Mountains to Sea Trail to stunning vistas, climbing to lofty views at Devil's Courthouse and above the Blue Ridge Parkway before hiking to Black Balsam Knob.
The hike follows the Mountains to Sea Trail for much of its length, trailing along the MST’s iconic, white circle trail blazes. The Mountains to Sea Trail is an epic-length trail; though only partially complete, the trail, when finished, will connect from the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the dune-covered shores of North Carolina’s Outer Banks – a staggering distance of 1150 miles. (In comparison, the AT spans 13 states, and spans double the distance of the Mountains to Sea Trail. But the MST’s route is entirely within North Carolina.)
Gorgeous vistas, beautiful forest, abundant wildflowers: this stretch of the MST is a must-hike. If you go, watch your step: the overlook drop-offs are sheer and sudden. But be prepared for some incredible natural beauty.
Devil’s Courthouse to Black Balsam Knob: the hike
The hike begins at the Devil’s Courthouse overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (view maps and driving directions), trailing beside the Parkway on a paved path before veering right, diving into the forest. The hike begins an abrupt, and often steep, climb through the shady, fir and fern-filled forest, gaining elevation along the paved Devil’s Courthouse Trail. At .3 miles, the pavement ends at a trail intersection, the hike veering abruptly south and continuing the climb. (A left turn at the intersection hikes to the Mountains to Sea Trail… more on that route shortly.)
The hike summits Devil’s Courthouse at just under a half mile, catching stunning, nearly 360-degree views from the rocky outcrop. On a clear day, views extend to three states. Nearby and distant summits are marked with bronze plaques, scattered around the jagged, craggy precipice.
Departing the summit, the hike retraces its outbound steps on the Devil’s Courthouse Trail, reaching the Mountains to Sea Spur Trail at .6 mile. The hike follows the spur, leaving the often-busy Courthouse Trail behind, and catching some solitude in a shady forest of balsam fir. The spur reaches the white-blazed Mountains to Sea Trail at .7 miles, turning right on the MST to hike northeast, crossing several small streams via wooden bridges and meandering through the mossy, fern-filled balsam forest. The trail climbs elevation steadily, reaching a side trail to the first of several towering overlooks at 1.5 miles.
Views stretch far and wide, the Blue Ridge Parkway winding directly below. The trail dips elevation through a saddle before climbing through a dense canopy of mountain laurel, cresting Silvermine Bald. Side trails near the Silvermine summit lead to overlooks, just before the Mountains to Sea Trail reaches a junction with the Art Loeb Trail at 1.9 miles.
The hike rolls elevation after veering to the north, dipping through fern-filled balsam forests and stretching across wide, sun-drenched expanses of rock covered in grasses and wildflowers.
The MST dives into a dense forest of balsam fir, nearing this hike’s end. Reaching the paved Black Balsam Knob Road at 2.9 miles, this hike completes, turning to follow its outbound route in reverse to return to the Devil’s Courthouse parking area.
Extend the hike on the Art Loeb Trail
Up for more mileage, and more abundant summit views? At this hike’s end, cross the paved road and follow the Art Loeb Trail to the Black Balsam Knob summit to catch some seriously beautiful 360-degree panoramas. The trail rolls over a series of grassy balds before climbing to the gleaming white quartz-capped summit of Shining Rock Mountain and onward to Cold Mountain, the highest peak in the Shining Rock Wilderness.
Mountains to Sea Trail: Devils Courthouse to Black Balsam Knob: Directions & Details
Free (limited) parking is available at the Devil's Courthouse overlook at MP 422 on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville. (Before you go, check for trail updates and parkway closures on the official Blue Ridge Parkway website.)
35.305100, -82.899417 // N35 18.306 W82 53.965