Hike to the view-packed Black Balsam Knob summit on the Art Loeb Trail, exploring a grassy, wildflower-covered mountain with 360-degree vistas, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville.
LOCATION:Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, NC
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 780 Trails Illustrated Map
The hike to the summit of Black Balsam Knob is rather legendary. And it’s truly exceptional. The Art Loeb Trail dips through a dense grove of balsam fir trees just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. 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 scent of balsam fir.
Then, after a short trek through the balsam grove, the trail exits into an idyllic, sun-drenched, rocky landscape covered in wildflowers as far as the eye can see. The hike climbs to a ridgeline and summits a rocky, treeless mountaintop the first of a line of mountain balds carpeted with endless wildflowers, wild blueberries, and blackberries. Views extend in every direction, stretching in 360-degree panoramas. At over 6,000 feet, the air is fresh and breezy, and the sunshine is warm but not scorching. It’s simply one of North Carolina’s best, most beautiful hikes.
The hike’s trailhead is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trailhead’s access to long-range trails makes it a popular backpacking destination, too, with access to the the Art Loeb Trail in Shining Rock Wilderness, the Mountains to Sea Trail to Devils Courthouse, and access to the Graveyard Ridge Trail at Graveyard Fields.
This relatively easy, beginner-friendly hike explores the mountain’s best views, diving through a balsam grove and summiting the mountain’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 near Asheville.
Black Balsam Knob: the hike
The adventure begins at the Art Loeb Trailhead, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420 (view maps and driving directions). The hike ventures northbound from the road, trekking through tall grasses and diving into a grove of balsam fir. The trail climbs elevation steadily, veering to the northeast and passing through the sweet-scented balsam forest.
The hike exits the balsam stand at .15 mile, veering northwest. Straight ahead, Black Balsam Knob immediately rises into view. The trail climbs through a grass and wildflower-filled landscape, scrambling over large rock outcrops. A lone balsam tree stands on the right of the trail, 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, winding 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 starting the 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 on a large outcrop is dedicated to Art Loeb 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.
The mountain’s summit is one of our all-time favorite places to catch a classic sunrise near Asheville.
After soaking up some truly stunning views, the hike retraces its outbound steps to the trailhead, completing the adventure at 1.4 miles.
Nearby beginner-friendly hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway
This stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville is prime for outdoor adventures. For a longer adventure from this same trailhead, 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.
Or catch some more sublime summit views on the nearby Sam Knob Trail, which departs from a trailhead at the dead-end of the road to 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.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free (but limited) parking is available, 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