Hiking to the Shining Rock summit on the Art Loeb Trail
Hike the Art Loeb Trail to the brilliant-white Shining Rock summit, rolling elevation over Black Balsam and a line of wildflower-covered, view-packed balds.
The peak is easily visible for miles, its white-crusted summit an anomaly in the surrounding green-covered peaks and rolling, golden, grassy balds. Shining Rock is nothing short of surreal: from its white, angular, boulder-crusted outcrops, the views from the 6,000-foot summit are absolutely stunning on a clear day.
Weather in this wilderness can be fleeting: sunny and cold one hour, socked in with dense fog the next, and suddenly balmy before sunset. We’ve hiked the mountain in fog, below freezing, and we’ve hiked it the warm, sun-drenched days of summer. It’s one incredible hike, and easily one of our favorites in the southeast. It’s exceptionally remote, though, so if you go, be sure to pack carefully, including emergency and wayfinding gear.
Thanks to a large trail network in the Shining Rock Wilderness, there’s more than one way to the iconic summit (see our trail review of Shining Rock via the Ivestor Gap Trail for a more direct, though less view-worthy, route). This hike follows our favorite route, rolling elevation over a series of grass and wildflower-covered balds on the Art Loeb Trail from Black Balsam Knob.
Art Loeb Trail to Shining Rock: the hike
The hike departs from the Black Balsam Knob trailhead (view maps and driving directions), hiking northbound on the Art Loeb Trail from Black Balsam Road (MP 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway). The hike climbs through a stand of balsam fir trees, evergreen fragrance filling the air, before beginning a rocky ascent to the summit of Black Balsam Knob. The trail passes an intersection with the Art Loeb Spur at .45 miles, rolling elevation through a saddle before making the final ascent to the Black Balsam summit. Wildflowers, golden grasses and wild blueberries cover the landscape, and the views are nothing short of phenomenal, stretching far and wide in 360-degree panoramas.
The trail reaches the summit of Black Balsam Knob at .75 mile, passing a plaque that commemorates Art Loeb, the trail’s namesake. The hike descends from the summit, passing several Art Loeb Trail signs. Wild blueberries thrive in this sun-drenched saddle.
The hike rolls elevation, beginning a climb to the summit of Tennent Mountain, and summiting Tennent at 1.9 miles. The gleaming, white summit of Shining Rock is visible on the far horizon on trail left, a white beacon in the mountainous wilderness. Descending Tennent Mountain, the hike carves through a sharp switchback, hiking eastbound before switching back to the northwest.
The hike reaches the Ivestor Gap Trail at 2.5 miles, turning right at the trail intersection and, in less than a tenth of a mile, veering right to continue following the Art Loeb Trail. (Given the number of trail intersections in the Shining Rock Wilderness, we highly recommend hiking with an official trail map, like our favorite, the Trails Illustrated #780. Also pack a compass, and GPS: wayfinding through the maze of trails in this wilderness can be tricky.)
The hike rolls elevation over a small knob, passing several campsites in groves of dense rhododendron, wind-swept pine and fern. The trail passes through a grassy clearing and through a wooden gate at 2.9 miles, briefly intersecting with the Ivestor Gap Trail once again, and passing a wooden Shining Rock Wilderness sign. The Art Loeb Trail veers right once again, rounding the east side of Grassy Cove Top and diving through a forest of balsam fir and fern before descending to Flower Gap.
The trail passes several campsites in the large, open, grassy expanses of Flower Gap, catching views of Shining Rock in the near distance. The hike climbs through a young birch forest, ascending Flower Knob and diving through a tunnel of mountain laurel, passing a spring at 4.5 miles and Shining Creek soon after. The Art Loeb Trail reaches a grassy, wildflower-filled clearing at 4.75 miles. The hike continues due north from the gap, making a final climb through an evergreen forest to the summit of Shining Rock.
Several side trails meander to the Shining Rock summit, all offering a steep scramble over large boulders and angular outcrops. It’s not an easy climb, but a rewarding one, as the hike ascends above the tree line and summits the brilliant, white quartz outcrops that give the mountain its name. (Dropoffs from the summit are steep and sudden, so if you go, tread carefully.) Views extend far and wide, on a clear day, to the surrounding grassy balds and the angular peaks of the Pisgah National Forest.
Departing the summit, the hike retraces its outbound steps on the Art Loeb Trail, rolling elevation over Flower Knob, Grassy Cove Top, Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob to return to the trailhead, a total hike of 9.9 miles. (Or, for an alternate route on the return hike, follow the Ivestor Gap Trail from Shining Rock, reaching the Ivestor Gap Trail / Sam Knob Trailhead at 9.5 miles. From there, follow the Art Loeb Spur Trail to Black Balsam Knob, and the Art Loeb Trail to this hike’s trailhead.)