Hike the Mountains to Sea Trail to stunning vistas at Devil’s Courthouse, climbing high above the Blue Ridge Parkway to Black Balsam Knob.
LOCATION:on the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, NC
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 780 Trails Illustrated Map
Mile for mile, this five-and-a-half-miler on the Mountains to Sea Trail packs in a staggering amount of scenic beauty along its stretch, traveling to overlook after steep overlook and a generous number of breathtaking views. Starting the adventure on the Devil’s Courthouse Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it ascends the sinister-looking mountain before paralleling the Parkway through fragrant balsam forest, catching gorgeous views from multiple overlooks. Dipping elevation, the trail winds through wildflower-covered rock outcrops to the Art Loeb trailhead at Black Balsam Knob, offering an extended hike to the knob’s legendary high-elevation grasslands covered in wildflowers and wild blueberries.
This is one amazing, scenery-packed hike.
The hike follows the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) for much of its length, following the trail’s iconic, white circle trail blazes. The MST is a trail of epic length. The trail is still a work in progress, but when finished, the trail 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 MST. But the MST’s route is entirely within North Carolina.)
Gorgeous vistas, beautiful forest, abundant wildflowers: this stretch of the MST is a definite must-hike. If you go, be sure to watch your step: the overlooks on this hike are sheer and drop off suddenly. But the views are absolutely incredible, and the forest is sublimely beautiful.
Devil’s Courthouse to Black Balsam Knob: the hike
The adventure begins at the Devil’s Courthouse overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (view maps and driving directions), trailing alongside the Parkway on a paved path and then veering right, diving into the forest. The hike begins an abrupt, steep climb through a sunlight-dappled forest filled with fir and fern. At .3 miles, the pavement ends at a trail intersection; a spur trail leads to the left, connecting to the Mountains to Sea Trail. The hike turns right, continuing the climb to Devil’s Courthouse.
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 into three states. Bronze plaques mark the locations of near and distant summits scattered around the jagged, craggy precipice.
Departing the mountaintop overlook, the hike retraces its outbound steps to the summit, reaching the MST spur trail at .6 mile. The hike follows the spur, leaving the often-busy Devil’s Courthouse Trail behind, and catching some solitude in a shady forest of balsam fir. The spur reaches the white-blazed MST 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 from the overlook, and the Blue Ridge Parkway meanders far 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 additional view-packed overlooks.
The hike 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. The hike reaches the paved Black Balsam Knob Road at 2.9 miles, completing this adventure, and turns 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.
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
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